World Autism Awareness Day...
I love World Autism Awareness Day. Mostly because I have lived in different parts of the world and have experienced what awareness does for all people, those with autism and without. I especially appreciate the richness of awareness that comes from people showing up. For the first time, the White House in our nation's capital was lit up blue tonight, though very few showed up to witness it.
Almost ten years ago in Thailand, in conjunction with a local art teacher, I organized an Art Gallery Night for youth on the Autism Spectrum. Awareness, and therefore education and services for people with autism were very limited in Thailand. While I was living and teaching there, I learned of the art teacher and the art space she and her husband offered to children with autism. The intention of the Art Gallery Night was to create awareness for the community, and share knowledge about the nature and needs of autism for those who were not aware.
We planned to host the event at an artsy restaurant in the area. It was not until I mentioned that the artists would have a table designated to them, that others became hesitant. "They don't usually go out - especially not to restaurants," my co-planner offered. "Well, they will on that night," I shared with a smile. "They are the artists, it would be rude not to invite them," I continued. With further coaching, the parents of the youth agreed to bring the youth with autism to the event. They were the stars of the night.
All types of community members attended the event, including teachers, local shop owners, and a military colonel. A developmental pediatrician spoke eloquently about autism, and the attendees met the artists, who sat poised and completely aware that their artwork was on display. The children’s artwork was for sale and the proceeds went to future programming for individuals with autism. Through this one simple evening, family members had broken the illusion and apprehension of who their son or daughter with autism was. They suddenly felt proud of their ability to be in a restaurant and of their talent to draw and paint. Perhaps they felt a little more understood as community members raising children with autism.
This was autism awareness at its best. It was direct and real impact to individuals with autism, their families and their communities members. Lighting up buildings blue alone does create a level of awareness and discussion for the better, and I am hopeful that worldwide we can create more opportunities to show up and share that awareness with each other. It is only then, I believe, that we touch the human aspect of who we all are, and need to learn more about.
More international stories about the community of autism can be found in the upcoming nonfiction, Bridging the Gap Between Learning and Living. Seeking an artist on the autism spectrum to design the book cover! Click here for more information.