I passed a car in a parking lot the other day that had one of the most confusing stickers I’ve ever seen. Overlaid on top of the puzzle piece autism awareness ribbon were the words, “Learn About Autism or Shut Up.” Think about that one for a while, then I’ll continue.
Ready for my rant? Good, here goes: how did that sticker do anything for the autism community? Or for the child whose parents own that car, for that matter? It was harsh and abrasive, and it projected an ugly attitude towards people who are not affected by autism.
First of all, this is 2012. I would venture a completely uneducated guess that there aren’t that many people left who are wholly unaffected by autism. Look around. The numbers would indicate almost everyone knows someone with autism. But more importantly, these aren’t the dark days of autism, the days back when the mothers were blamed for causing the autism–or “Refrigerator Mother Syndrome,” as it actually used to be called–or the days when parents had to fight to even get their children into schools, let alone get them the services they need.
Now, I am the first to admit we have a lot of work to do towards uncovering the causes of autism and discovering better ways to help these kids. We are about to face a crisis of Biblical-plauge-proportions when this generation of identified autistic kids grows up and has no viable workforce to enter.
But as far as the attitudes, the need to tell outsiders to get with the program or “shut up?” No. The era of the point-and-stare mentality is behind us. Stickers like that one only cause irritation and hurt feelings. People are still afraid and cringing when they approach me to ask, “Should I hug her or not?” when they meet Carrie, as though they are embarrassed by their own ignorance of autism. If my child had a rare form of elbow cancer, I wouldn’t expect you to know what to do. My child has autism, and I’m grateful that you even want to interact with her. Telling you about Carrie is my job, it’s not on your shoulders to go look up everything you can about autism in case you bump into someone in the grocery store who needs your understanding.
More importantly, why is this on your car? Where were the other stickers for your other children, the ones that said, “Learn about redheaded kids or Shut Up” or “Educate yourself on astigmatism or Go Away!” Do you have awareness magnets for your kid who struggles with math? No? Then why did you single out autism? Why did you feel like you had the right to tell the whole world that one of those three beautiful kids exiting that vehicle is not normal? It was nobody’s business but his.
It sounds to me like the person who placed that sticker on her car has some learning to do herself.