Military Special Needs Network

Proudly Supporting all Military Families with a Special Needs Dependent

Different, Not Less: The Great Divide

autism_dayTomorrow is World Autism Awareness Day, and I’ve been staring at this blank page for a couple hours now.  What do I write?  I’m not sure if I should light it up blue, make people aware of Autism or spread acceptance.  If I buy a blue light bulb, I know of people who will be offended.  If I wear black, then I’m offending the blue campaign.  If I talk about medical treatments for Autism, then some will say I’m a cure-bee.  If I refuse a vaccination for my child, I’m spreading diseases.  If I change my child’s diet, then I’m trying to alter my child’s diagnosis.  If my child qualifies for ABA therapy, then I’m trying to change who she is.  No matter where I turn, am I doing the right thing?

Autism awareness means many different things to me:  making society aware that 1-in-88 (possibly 1-in-50) have an Autism Spectrum Disorder.  We need our lawmakers to come up with a national plan for therapy coverage for all.  We need acceptance and inclusion from our schools and the public, in general.  But, before we can go out and teach society about autism, we need to look inward and fix our own community.  We speak Temple Grandin’s famous words “Different, not less” and proudly display our puzzle piece ribbons, yet we judge and criticize our fellow autism families based on where they fit within the spectrum.  Just the other day, I overheard a mom say to another, “Oh, you have a high-functioning Aspie kid?  Pfft.  You got the easy autism.”  Then another, “Doesn’t that just mean he has poor social skills?  So what.  My kid flaps and spins and embarrasses me.”  Why are we sending each other the message that we are “less than” instead of different?  How can, as members of the autism community, ever expect our society to understand who we are when we can’t even manage to get along ourselves?  autism_awarenessI never expected to see such a divide when we entered the autism community.  I expected to be welcomed, open armed into a community filled with others that “get it.”  I want to learn from other families and hear their stories. I want to feel compassion, understanding, and mutual respect based on our common denominator:  Autism Spectrum Disorder.  There’s not a day that goes by that we’re not seeking support from our peers and professionals, and yet I’m still sitting here wondering how many people will ‘defriend’ me tomorrow, if I turn on my blue light bulb.

As I celebrate World Autism Awareness Day tomorrow, I can promise you this:  I will educate my children, friends, and family members about acceptance, respect, support, and inclusion for those with disabilities; I will ask them to not judge the family who wants to try alternative therapies, supplements, or special diets; I will ask my friends and family to respect that our autism community is filled with loved ones and self-advocates who want others to listen and hear them.  Let’s work on overcoming obstacles, not only for our children, but for the thousands of adults with ASD that face discrimination for jobs, access to education, and navigating the complex medical system that is oh so intimidating.  We need to remember that each one of us is seeking support from other families and adults with ASD that will offer hope on what feels sometimes like a long, dark road ahead.  Tomorrow, I will choose to accept my child and her autism.  And I hope that our community, however divided, will become a place of acceptance without judgment.  All viewpoints will be welcomed, accepted, and differences are embraced and not discouraged.  After all, we are different, not less.

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Wendy Kruse is a military spouse, mother to two beautiful girls, and the CEO of the Military Special Needs Network. She became an advocate in 2006 when her youngest daughter was diagnosed with severe neurological and developmental delays. Having experienced the overwhelming feelings that confront parents after receiving a devastating diagnosis, Wendy knows how challenging it can be to navigate the world of special needs in the military and the myriad of decisions that we are faced with. Contact Wendy via email at: wen.kruse@militaryspecialneedsnetwork.com.

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