Outside of the NFL, NASCAR is the most watched spectator sport in North America. Before the economy went south, it was not uncommon to see the stands at a race jammed full of fans each week, and some of these tracks hold well over 100,000 people.
Today, NASCAR used it’s platform and reach to promote autism awareness. Today’s race at the Dover International Speeday in Dover Delaware benefitted autism speaks. Talk about using your popularity and visiblity to raise awareness. The logo to the right says a lot about the sponsoring company, FedEx. Yes, they get positive publicity, but I doubt that was the primary reason they sponsored today’s race.
Autism hits really close to home in the NASCAR community, as it does with all of us. There are a number of drivers that have promoted autism awareness for a very long time. Whether it is through a paint scheme on their care for one race, carrying the ribbon on the car for a whole season, auctioning off a specially-designed helmet, or any other number of ways, the NASCAR community has long been a supporter of autism awareness. At today’s race, there was a suite designated for individuals with autism to use and to enjoy the race. If you have never been to one of these events, you cannot even begin to fathom how loud they are, and having a suite available for individuals that might not do so well with the noise is awesome. Also in the suite, they had plenty of games and activities to keep kids busy and occupied. All around, it was a great event.
Driver Elliott Sadler, for one, has been a proud supporter of those on the spectrum for a long time. He has a niece with autism, so raising awareness is a natural thing for him. He has never been one to be shy about autism, or about raising awareness.
Today marks the end of Autism Awareness Month. Blue lights will be removed from houses and buildings, if they have not already been, and people will move on with their lives. My sincere hope is that there are people out there that knew very little about autism on March 31, and have acquired some knowledge over the last month.
I certainly learned a lot over the last month. I learned that a number of cities chose to “Light It Up Blue” for World Autism Awareness Day. I learned that several landmarks were made blue, including the Empire State Building and the Christ the Redeemer statue. I learned that President Obama issued a proclamation for World Autism Awareness Day, but disappointed so many by not having the White House be lit up with blue lights. I learned that school districts do not define autism as a disability, and they also have no idea from department to department as to what they will accept to classify a student as autistic and eligible for services. I learned that if you present open minded, intelligent people with opportunities to learn about autism, they will educate themselves. I was reminded that, as long as I am being a rational person, my parents will contact the White House to express their disappointment in it not being blue. I continued to build and strengthen friendships with amazing people (click here or here for more).
I am reminded every day that I have a lot to learn about autism and Asperger’s, and Kaitlyn is more than happy to teach me. I’ve said it time and time again, but we are truly blessed to have such a wonderful and complex daughter. Amber and I had always been on the outside looking in supporting autism awareness because of her favorite driver Elliott Sadler’s niece having autism, and Kaitlyn’s diagnosis allowed us to dive in head first to increase awareness and become fierce advocates for those with autism.
Just because Autism Awareness Month is over, I encourage everybody to keep learning about autism. 1 in 110 children born while you read this will be diagnosed with autism. It is people like Amber and I, and people like you, that must continue to learn about this diagnosis with no known cause or cure. If you have a blue bracelet, it is ok to wear it tomorrow and every day after; it is fashionable to wear your puzzle ribbon as well. In the past week alone, I had two cashiers (one at Publix, one at Lowe’s) ask about the ribbon on my shirt and at least listen to my 2 minute presentation on autism. You can choose to make a difference each and every day of the year, not just for the 30 days in April.
“In an ideal world the scientist should find a method to prevent the most severe forms of autism but allow the milder forms to survive. After all, the really social people did not invent the first stone spear. It was probably invented by an Aspie who chipped away at rocks while the other people socialized around the campfire. Without autism traits we might still be living in caves.”
— Temple Grandin