Autism Awareness Month has started, and I have been blown away by the number of people that are “Lighting It Up Blue” for autism. Across the country and world, major cities are lighting up landmark buildings to promote autism awareness; places like the Empire State Building, the Sears Tower, and the Eiffel Tower are all going to have blue lighting. There has been a groundswell of support to have the White House participate as well, and I am interested to see if it turns blue later tonight; hopefully President Obama recognizes that lighting the White House blue will bring significant attention to autism awareness.
I have been touched that my family went to Home Depot for their blue light bulbs and showed their support by lighting their houses blue. We have ours installed, and will light it nightly all month for autism awareness.
For all of the advocacy and education programs supported by Autism Speaks, the Autism Society, and others, there are still a large number of people roaming the streets that are completely insensitive and uneducated when it comes to autistic people. I am not talking about your average run-of-the-mill person you might walk by in the mall, I am talking about educators, administrators, and government officials.
I have already documented some of the troubles we are having with our local school district and their reluctance to qualify Kaitlyn for ESE services because they do not feel autism is a “disability.” Sadly, but not surprisingly, I recently found out that we are not alone in dealing with ignorant school officials. Our friend Ashley’s son is autistic, and the other day as she picked him up from his VPK program at a local elementary school, she had the audacity to use the “drive-thru” parent pickup lane, and was read the riot act by the principal; what this principal failed to realize is that a trait of autistic people is they tend to wander off on their own sometimes, and her son was just as likely to hold her hand crossing the road to the parking lot as he was to run into traffic. You can read more about her encounter at www.stinkerbaby.blogspot.com. Take a minute or two to read her letter to the administration at the school and the “apology” she received. I am appalled at the treatment she received. The school administrators are no better in their unwillingness to educate themselves.
A quick caveat, the government official mentioned above are not specifially targeting autism, but their short-sidedness and ignorance deserves to be pointed out here.
This week, the governor of Florida, Rick Scott, unveiled budget cuts to the Agency for Persons with Disabilities to the tune of 15% of the current budget. I get that our state is facing a tough budget battle, but to cut funding for those with the greatest need is absurd. What made the timing of the announcement even more special is that it came right before the Special Education Torch Run, in which the governor participated. His comments to the crowd basically amounted to his support for people with disabilities, and was a lie if there ever was one. He even dodged questions from the local reporter at the event about the cuts to funding, but made sure to have his picture taken with some of the participants. The editor of the local newspaper, the Tallahassee Democrat, Bob Gabordi, wrote an excellent piece about the importance of the agency and the “tough” choice to cut funding, and he said what I feel way better than I can express.
Autism Awareness Month continues all the way through April 30, and I encourage everybody to get involved in any way they can. Even the smallest gesture, like lighting your house blue, means the world to people with autism and their families. There is no cure for autism, but your support helps fund early intervention programs that allow families like mine and Ashley’s to receive a diagnosis early and begin the process of making the lives of our children as excellent as possible. 1 in 110 children born today will be diagnosed with an austim specturm disorder, and your support is crucial in getting them the best possible treatment…who knows the child born with autism today may be the one that finds the cure for cancer tomorrow.