Wednesday, March 20, 2013

1 In 50: Why Using Numbers Hurts Autism Awareness

I've been meaning to write something like this for a long time. It's just been rankling me for years, so I'm just going to come right out and say it:

Stating autism rates doesn't help awareness or acceptance. It just scares people.

That's all there is to it. Shouting out numbers isn't going to help people understand your child with autism or Asperger's. All it's going to do is intimidate and frighten people. I can throw out numbers all day about the prevalence of autism, but it's not going to do anything except make people afraid to have children in case those children end up having an autism spectrum disorder.

We don't want that to happen. It'd be rather nice to have a next generation.

There's better ways to get people to notice and care about people with ASDs. I personally explain my Asperger's to people when it comes up in life, helping them to understand how autism spectrum disorders work a little better through their contact with an actual person with one. I also make sure they know that I'm one person with Asperger's and not representative of the autism spectrum as a whole, but now a lot of people who know me come to me when they have questions about autism spectrum disorders. This is because I put a human face on those numbers.

We can't just shout out numbers at people if we want them to accept us as a group of human beings. We need to make sure people realize that autism has a human face, and that it's us, our children, our friends, our siblings - people. Groups like Autism Speaks use the numbers to raise money, playing on fear to get people to donate money to their research. This is a problem because if we all use fear, nobody's going to understand because we fear above all else what we do not know or understand.

Do you want people to understand the autistic people in your life? Don't scare them with numbers. Just explain to them what autism really is. Show them that it's something that affects the lives of people, not just a statistic. In my life, I use statistics for baseball, not my self-advocacy. I use myself for my self-advocacy, and I find it works a lot better. The people I interact with understand autism and Asperger's better after they've met me because I am nothing to fear. I'm just a person, like they are.

Stop using the numbers to try to raise awareness. Use actual autistic people and show the world that they should be accepted just like other humans.

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