Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Good Intention? Autism Awareness vs. Acceptance

I happened upon a video today posted by a well-known autism "support" website. The video was titled Army of Autism Awareness Angels Flash Mob - World Autism Awareness Day 2012. I knew when I clicked on it that "Flash Mob" and "Autism" couldn't necessarily mesh well, but I was willing to take the risk. Hey—I was bored. And it had been shared 21,582 times, so it must be worth it. Right?

Oh my. 

Let me begin by saying I am confident this group of people were very well intentioned and must have incredibly loving hearts to coordinate such a large scale event. It was quite impressive.

With so any people. 

In such a public place. 

With so many bright lights. 

With such incredibly loud, obnoxious music. 

[Closing eyes and covering ears, hoping for Scotty to beam me up . . . ]

If this group of people in the video were "aware" at all about autism and one of its main ingredients, sensory sensitivities, they would have realized this was an incredibly ridiculous spectacle. Sensory overload, at its finest. 

A crowded mall with its bright, buzzing, florescent lighting, crowds of people, strong perfume, and a different genre of music playing in each store passed has the potential to push anyone (on or off the spectrum) into a full blown meltdown. Then you add the crowd, dancing, jumping, woo-hooing, and clapping next to an ESCALATOR (am I the only one that still gets a fright from these beastly things?) — I'd need an escape plan - pronto. They put children (not sure if they were autistic or not) in the middle of a circle and danced around them, clapping and woo-hooing (I'd have been on the floor at this point covering my ears, hoping anyone, the most evil of serpents even, would pull me through the floor to get some quiet in his warm bowels). And the grand finale: a group of hot, young girls ride down the escalator in tiny red t-shirts, short shorts, and high heels (seriously) holding small signs displaying the words "Army of Autism Awareness Angels". Did anyone even see the signs? Likely not, with the red colored shirts (which everyone knows the brain cannot NOT see the color red) - oh, and the hot girls, naturally. 

This event would get a 10 in my book . . . if it were a demonstration of what causes an autistic to meltdown and isolate from the rest of society. A 10 if it were a demonstration to parents as to why their daughter is screaming and covering her ears, or why their son is hiding in the clothes rack in Macy's and won't come out.  

Being "aware" that autism exists isn't helping anyone, nor is it even necessary. I think we've down-right saturated the media with knowing the word "autism". Even the label itself isn't really helping anyone as every autistic is different and it certainly isn't helping when the actual difficulties the autistic is having aren't even being considered (such as the numerous non-verbal children who consistently displayed head-banging behavior before finally being diagnosed with severe ear infections; or the kid who screams incessantly while covering his ears in Costco because the florescent lights are buzzing and blinking creating a sensory tornado in his brain and body). 

Children and adults, verbal and non-verbal alike, are often drugged, set aside, and not considered when it comes to our own feelings, wants, needs, and desires. Silly when something like a baseball cap in Costco does wonders (it does for me). Earplugs-brilliant. 

Einstein (who many believe today would be diagnosed as being somewhere on the autism spectrum) didn't speak until he was four. In fact, mathematics historian Otto Neugebauer once told a rather charming, inspiring story about young Einstein. 
As he was a late talker, his parents were worried. At last, at the supper table one night, he broke his silence to say, "The soup is too hot." 
Greatly relieved, his parents asked why he had never said a word before.  
Albert replied, "Because up to now everything was in order."
Imagine if young Albert had been institutionalized, drugged, or simply not listened to?  

Imagine a group of people decided to do a flash mob for "poor people awareness". Imagine them paying to have hundreds of t-shirts made to advertise the event, handing out food and drinks for the dancers, and holding the event in a place like Beverly Hills, California (not a very poor-friendly place). And imagine Victoria's Secrets models walking out in lingerie (nice to look at but inappropriate!) holding hand written "Army of Angels for the Poor" signs above their heads. How is any of this helping the poor? All the money and energy spent getting t-shirts made, food prepared, and money to pay the models could have easily gone to feeding or housing the poor. But no one asked the poor what would help. And we're all quite aware that the poor exist. Capishe?

As good intentioned as these folks must have been, I don't think they realized at the time the contrast of their actions to what they were trying to raise awareness for. It is my hope that Autism Acceptance is the message more widely spread. It is my hope that all people, as good hearted as we often are, take more time to listen, to understand, to learn from one another. I'd much prefer someone take an interest in me as a person rather than spread the word about my overgeneralized label. 

1 comment:

KimAspie said...

Wow. Very well written article on a not very well thought out campaign.