Cashier: “Mrs. Huggins, would you like to make a donation to “Autism Speaks” today?”
Me: “No thank you, not today.”
Cashier: “Are you sure Mrs. Huggins? Every dollar donated goes to help a family affected by Autism!”
Me: (Smiling) “Oh, thank you for that. Actually, I am one of those families! My little boy has Autism. So, I guess you could say I make a pretty big donation every day!” (Insert awkward smile and laugh)
Cashier: (Responding in blank facial expression and harsh tone) “So, do you want to make a donation or not?”
Please don’t judge me. If I had had some change or a few extra dollar bills that day, I might have donated to the cause. It’s a great one!
And as for my cashier compatriot, he was just doing his job. Maybe he needed to meet a quota. Maybe he doesn't even really know what Autism is. But the irony of the whole situation struck me as sort of funny. Judging by the body language and harsh tone of my cashier compatriot, I believe it’s safe to say that although his store was helping to promote “Autism Awareness”, he just doesn't get it.
In case you were not aware, April is “Autism Awareness” month. You have probably seen collection jars at cash registers, heard a little more about Autism and statistics on the news, seen t-shirts with the Autism symbol (a puzzle piece), there have been “Buddy Runs”, and possibly you have seen blue light bulbs (the slogan is “Light it Up Blue for Autism Awareness”). This is all so wonderful! I am so thankful for Autism Awareness month. I am so thankful that there is a month dedicated to helping others understand and support families who walk this Autism journey on a daily basis.
While all of this lends itself to great publicity and the raising of funds, my prayer as the parent of an Autistic child is that for every person who gives and listens that it would not just end there.
Autism Awareness is so much more than pennies in a jar, a puzzle piece t-shirt, or a blue light bulb. True Awareness is a change of heart. It’s the realization that not everyone is the same, and that’s a beautiful thing. Autism Awareness is not passing judgment, it’s acceptance and understanding that some are “different but equal”, it’s the true belief that everyone has been “fearfully and wonderfully made”. True Autism Awareness is thinking outside of our “Cookie Cutter Culture”, and embracing those who may live and act differently than what has been considered “normal”. It’s the understanding that every life has purpose and value. Autism Awareness is the knowledge that some people are facing some very large battles on a daily basis-and doing something about it. It’s digging deep, a shift in perspective, and the ultimate display of unconditional love.
Giving to organizations and institutions that help families affected by Autism is wonderful. We need these organizations and institutions. They are so very critical to families just like mine. But please don’t let that be the extent of your “Awareness”. Can I plead with you for a “heart-change”? Because I can tell you, as the parent of a special needs child, a “heart-change” is what our culture needs.
Love deeply. Be accepting. Be willing to shift your perspective. And be ready for your heart to swell with a new kind of love and “Awareness”. True Autism Awareness could be a very beautiful thing!