You may have known that April is the cruelest month. You may not have known it is also Autism Awareness Month. To commemorate it, the Light It Up Blue campaign persuaded White Castle, the Empire State Building, the Hungarian Parliament Building (pictured above) and other institutions all over the world to light their buildings blue on April 2. A beautiful display of global support and community.
This photo came from the Atlantic’s series of images commemorating Autism Awareness Month.
I love most of the images in this series because they show autistic people doing what most people do: riding horses, working at computers, performing in talent contests. This girl is practicing in a bathroom before she goes on stage at an annual concert in a mall in the Philippines:
I also like that there are images from all over the world.
But one image was disappointing. Image 12, of a Romanian child smiling with some balloons at a World Autism Day rally in Bucharest.
The image is lovely. It’s the caption that sticks in my craw. It twice uses the word “suffering.”
Does this kid look like he’s suffering?
Here’s the thing: if people with autism and their families had adequate support, they wouldn’t suffer.
Autism is a neurological difference that can cause tremendous challenges for people and their families and caretakers. But if families had well-trained, well-paid therapists, home care specialists, access to residential facilities, access to appropriate schools, and access to other support systems, then there wouldn’t be much suffering.
Neurological differences — even when they cause serious physical impairments — wouldn’t be so difficult to live with if we had a vibrant health care system available for all families.
Without these vital supports, autism seems frightening. And it does cause suffering.
This is true for many disabilities. If societies supported families in better and broader ways, physical and cognitive impairments could be much more like, say, my difficulty reaching the top shelf at the grocery store.
Until then, we have people so frightened by this illness that they wage deadly campaigns against life-saving vaccines. For example.
Until then, we need global campaigns of awareness and support to make autism seem less frightening and more familiar. More like a beautiful blue-lit government building and less like a grimacing child contorted by her inability to use words.
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