A year ago, I sat on a plane on the first day of Autism Awareness Month and watched five straight hours of CNN coverage. I remember being deeply impressed by the commitment of the CNN staffers, some of whom had children on the spectrum themselves.
One segment was about a center in Qatar for children with special needs. A few weeks later, I received an email from a woman who'd read one of my posts. She lived in the United Arab Emirates and was concerned about her son; so much so that she contacted a stranger in the United States for advice.
I didn't know where she was exactly, but I told her about the Shafallah Center in Qatar. To this day I have no idea whether they were able to help her, or if she even contacted them, but it reminded me of how small the Internet makes the world. With so little really known about autism, our kids' lives are deeply affected by information passed from one of us to another: in a word, folklore.
Here we are again: it's Autism Awareness Month, and we're going to be hearing a lot of folklore in the next 30 days. It'll be the usual drumbeat of causation theories, therapies, inspiring, grim and sensationalist stories and semi-celebrities flogging their books on Oprah.
Makes you want to check into a hotel, throw a blanket over the TV and sleep for a few weeks, doesn't it?
Tonight as I tucked Isaac into bed, I couldn't stop thinking about the onslaught of autismania we'll be seeing this month. I looked down at Isaac as he sleepily clutched his stuffed bunny, and I thought if people really understood the incredible strength and beauty and humor of our kids, how hard they work, what the world looks and feels and smells and sounds like to them, we wouldn't have to spend so much time fighting for awareness, and beyond that, acceptance.
Enough Rain Man, enough sensationalism, enough scary and irresponsible stories. Enough. You've heard of autism: now look at the kids.
Here's mine. He'll be six this summer, he loves buses and pizza and reading and climbing, and he laughs when he learns new words.
Now. Tell me about your kid. Your brother or sister. You.
If you are on Twitter, I invite you to post a photo of someone you love with autism. At the end of the post, tag it #waad (for World Autism Awareness Day) and #hereweare.