This is Why “Autism Awareness” Isn’t Working


I read this article, Click Here to Read Article, and frankly, I was mortified. However, as with all media, one needs to realize that there are always opinions and there are always other sides to stories. An article like this shows us, in all likelihood, someone’s opinion and view on the topic. In this article, we read about a heartbroken mother rightfully distraught over the recent suicide of her son. It’s the unthinkable, tragedy, where a human being takes their own life rather than face the issue causing those feelings to surface. I am not a medical doctor, nor do I pretend to be, but I am a mother. So, my heart goes out to her. What is disturbing are the alleged actions of the employer who (also allegedly) suspected this young man of stealing and upon arrival to his job was handcuffed and paraded throughout the store in an arranged gauntlet of sorts, intended to shame and embarrass him. The store vehemently denies this and the mother is left with what she feels is no option but to obtain legal counsel and initiate a lawsuit. She is seeking answers and justification from the employer and whatever else the suit alleges (which I am not privy to as merely a reader of the article).

What did strike me as shocking was the comment section. Some comments were full of hatred for the mother, alluding that the son is completely at fault and the employer bears no responsibility for his “choice” (their words). Many other comments are strongly supportive of the mother and extremely upset at the employer and the alleged practice of shaming those accused of stealing (the company fully denies this at this time).

As the parent of two children on the Autistic Spectrum and a mother, I have witnessed and been privy to many instances of bullying. As a child, I was bullied and as a friend, I know plenty who were bullied; Autistic or not. Bullying most certainly is not limited to those with Autism and it is a long standing issue in all walks of life. Bullying exists in all economic structures, all levels of race, gender, religion, age, location and many other factors. It’s something being noticed and being addressed, however, when a spotlight is shone on adult bullying in the workforce of someone on the Autism Spectrum, I feel that this whole happy “Autism Awareness” movement is somehow failing.

Autism is in the news all the time. Heartwarming stories of families overcoming odds, students emerging from silence and doing great things; the list is endless. However, there is a very dark side to all these stories that is not being shown. Families are struggling and flailing when given a diagnosis, faced with therapies and medications sometimes not covered, unsure of services and all intertwined with a lifelong disability and confusing new terms (whether or not people with Autism and/or their families consider them or their child disabled, Autism medically is a developmental disability and I refer to it with scientific accuracy). Inquiries from friends, family and well meaning school officials can quickly turn into challenges when a school introduces the idea of new services and not much information is provided for families to seek out support and help to apply for services.

This is where my article title comes in. We can buy all the specially colored light bulbs we want, put together puzzle pieces and watch television commercials to support research and I think it’s wonderful, really I do. Countless families have benefited from services and special events and it’s a start. However, it’s nowhere NEAR enough. For years I worked as an advocate in the Maryland legislature to rally support for funding for people with disabilities (not just Autism) and I was met with disinterest, confusion of what Autism even was and even, in rare but shocking cases, hostility at my audacity to suggest families get anything for free and that they need to use medical insurance “like the rest of us”. I have been dealing with Autism for over 17 years with my son and also with my 10 year old daughter. I just found out yesterday about a grant that pays up to $2000 for needed therapies and services for children in my state. So, with my knowledge and immersion in the world of Autism and special needs in my state, even I just found out about something that could have helped my family up until now.

I don’t know what the answer is, but we need to, as a country, as a society, start educating more than just those who stock the shelves with specially colored light bulbs and a month dedicated to “awareness”. We need to start training employers and fellow employees with information to welcome and accept everyone and help them understand how disabilities could affect everyone from management on down. Every job starts out with orientation. Educate fellow employees about those around them who might be facing different challenges. When we start looking at the diversity around us, we will find that people with Autism are not much different than us. They get nervous in new situations just like we do, but sometimes we need to approach it differently. They have anxiety sometimes and even depression like many people. The barbaric practice of handcuffing people and marching them through a gauntlet is terrifying even for someone without a socially crippling disability. This company and we as a society need to wake up and embrace the differences in all of us.


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