Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Fourth of July is for fireworks and discussions of freedom. In the autism community here in America, we are free to discuss our ideas, convey our desires and seek out equal rights for our loved ones and ourselves, as persons affected by autism. We cannot deny that we and our loved ones are treated and viewed differently. We struggle daily to bring awareness and knowledge to the public at large to gain strides in our quest to be treated fairly and equally by those without autism in their lives.
It is extremely jarring – to say the least- when I encounter the setbacks to being treated equally. I am sometimes jolted to the realization that the continuous struggle of which Dr. King spoke applies equally to our community.
I was innocently buying my groceries Sunday afternoon when I saw this cover of National Enquirer as I stood in line at the check-out:
“Autism Shocker”. Really? Instead of asking what that means, let’s ask what that is intended to convey. Autism can be a shocker when diagnosed? Yes. But when the words “autism shocker” are on the cover of a rag like this, they come with an entirely different connotation. For me, it was conveying that “autism” is something defective, to be ashamed of and hidden. Something that the National Enquirer uncovered and “reported.”
Admittedly, I did not pick the rag up and read the story inside. I was in a hurry. Guess what? I’m not the only one who will see just the headline and never read the inside. So regardless of what it says inside, what it conveys on the cover is what sets me off.
You might just tell me to “consider the source” and let it go, but I had to mention it here. That crap supposedly has a circulation of 1 million. Who knows how many more people will see that headline in public places in which it is displayed. Millions more than the circulation will read that headline and nothing more. While it is easy for people to say that no one really takes it seriously, guess what else? It still leaves an impression. It’s not like the story is “Travolta and wife blessed with second son with autism.” Many months or a year later, if someone mentions that someone has autism, that little nugget, “autism shocker” will still be in their minds, subconsciously. Perhaps, even exerting an ugly influence.
Each and every one of us in the autism community works so hard each day to reach the mainstream and explain how our children are smart and beautiful and worthy. We fight at IEPs and in coordinating services and hunt down babysitters and try to educate the preschool and other teachers that educate our children. We even have an International Day and a whole month in April to make people aware. And then something like this is printed with a voice millionfolds louder than any of us, drowning us out with all kinds of ugly.
I’ve got no real beef with John Travolta, his wife or his choice of Scientology (freedom of religion) because what he does is his business. (I actually loved his dancing in Pulp Fiction with Uma Thurman). If his only 8 month old child has already been diagnosed with autism that would be a pretty early diagnosis by any standard – and one I really doubt has been made. This couple has had enough tragedy for a lifetime losing one son. Now, with a new baby, they are being dissected again and in an intentionally mean-spirited headlining way that now affects all of us.
On this 4th of July, I reflect and give due regard to our struggle to be free as a country. Freedom to speak is part of that. Unfortunately, even though each of us have the opportunity to speak, the audience each of us reaches is not equal. For us in the autism community, our struggle continues. We have to continue to write and speak and make the world aware that autism should be viewed with respect, compassion and love, not “shock”.
My back is straight. No one – certainly not the National Enquirer will be riding me. I will continue the struggle here in my blog spot in the universe. My son depends on me. “Autism Shocker” will be met with posts like “Lessons from My Son”. Thank you Dr. King, for your words keep me strong when I go through the grocery store line.
Happy 4th of July to all!