The big exciting holiday of the year for autism families is coming up in just two days! Yes, indeed, it's Autism Awareness Day! I just can't wait, because that will be such a fun day for Janey and all of us---yes---all those great activities for autistic kids and their families! What? What's that you say? There are really not any exciting fun times for autistic kids on that day? What the heck? It's just somehow a day named for autism, where for some reason you are supposed to "light it up blue"? How is that going to help anyone? And who isn't aware of autism these days? Is this a day to reach out to the 1 or 2 percent of the population who for some reason has never heard of autism?
Now, of course I'm just being a little nasty. I am glad there's an autism awareness day, and I plan to write a post about it on the day and be more with the program. But lately, I've been thinking about what I'd like better than a day to make people aware of autism. I'd like something I would call an "Autism Friendly Day"
Here's my dream for that day. All restaurants, stores, recreational establishments and more would be encouraged to participate, which would mean they would set aside that one day to do what they could be be autism friendly. Restaurants could have a night where families with an autistic child could eat out, in an environment friendly to a little bit of strange noisemaking, random tantrums and odd food choices. The wait staff could get a quick training ahead of time about what to expect. I would guess it would actually make the restaurants some good money on an otherwise normal Tuesday, because a lot of families with autistic kids would love to eat out with them, but don't want to have to worry about other diners being annoyed by their children. Stores could have a special time set aside to actually shop with your autistic child, without people staring or being nasty if your kid hates shopping and throws a crying fit while you are desperately trying to try shoes or clothes on them---and maybe other shoppers could refrain from staring or saying your child seems tired and should go home. Places like mini-golf or arcades or indoor gyms could take one day out of 365 to cater especially to autistic kids.
While I'm dreaming, maybe schools and churches and community centers could get in on this. I am extremely lucky Janey goes to a school where she is always included, but not every child is that lucky. Maybe for that day, the separate autism classes could join the regular classes, and the "regular" kids could learn about autism, and meet some fascinating kids with autism they would otherwise not know. The Sunday closest to Autism Friendly Day could be a day for churches to welcome families affected by autism. That would be wonderful---our family could try a church together, something we have not been able to do since Janey's regression. Community centers could open to kids with autism for recreation---they could have some classes or open gyms set up.
I think this day would do a lot more to raise autism awareness than the current setup. Nothing makes you aware of autism like actually spending time with a child with autism, or an adult with autism. You can't learn about autism solely by reading about it. And becoming more aware of what autism actually is would benefit everyone. Businesses and churches and restaurants would benefit tremendously if they reached out to families that have simply stopped using their services due to their autistic child. The general public would learn what the real needs are of families affected by autism, and the fear of the unknown that I am sure often keeps people from getting to know our kids would be reduced.
Best of us, this day would actually be a fun day for families like ours. It would be a treat, in a life that often is stressful and tiring and isolating. It's a dream, but I think it could easily be reality, without a great deal of cost or bureaucracy. I'd love it.