April 2, 2009

Autism Awareness Day

Sometime in the early '90s, at a national conference in North Carolina, I attended a discussion on autism presented by a panel of individuals, each diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. It was the first-ever attempt this conference made to develop such a panel, and I was eager to hear the perspectives of the individuals.

During the Q&A session, an audience member walked to the mic and asked this simple question: "If you could take a magic pill today and wake up tomorrow without the symptoms of autism, would you take the pill?"

Of course they would, I thought. Who wouldn't?

"No, I wouldn't take the pill," was the answer. And not by just one panel member; each of them clearly and with great passion explained why they would pass on any treatment that would remove the condition from their lives.

"Autism is a part of my life, and helped shape me into the person I am today. Without it, I'd be a different person, with different perspectives and different insights. I'd be someone different than me, and I sort of like the me I am now."

It was exactly the answer this young professional needed to hear. Perhaps it's not the condition that requires a cure: perhaps the cure lies in acceptance, the removal of stigma, and in understanding and support. Maybe the best approach is for those of us living off the spectrum to effectively adapt and change our own presumptions about autism, and in doing so put ourselves in a better position to support folks living with an ASD.

Be aware.

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