Archive for the ‘Autism Awareness’ category

Celebrating The Need To Get Involved

October 6, 2011

October is national Down syndrome awareness month. A lot of hard work by some seriously talented and highly motivated parents, advocates and self-advocates has come together in various national programs and campaigns to elevate awareness and acceptance of people with Trisomy 21.

I’m grateful for their efforts. Just as I’m grateful to all of the families that have gone before us, educating family members and friends – then passing information and hope to new parents behind them. The mentoring that goes on in the disability community is something to behold.

For families of kids with Down syndrome, every day is Down syndrome awareness day. The extra chomosome touches every facet of our life with Hayden, my dude-cool 13 year-old son. From waking in the morning to bedtime at night, there are accommodations – as well as expectations. It’s our life. As such, every day in our house is Hayden appreciaton day.

Similarly, every day in our house is also Autism awareness day, as our daughter, DP, is on the spectrum. And yes, every day is DP appreciation day. So you can see, we’ve got some major celebrating going on, what with all the awareness and stuff going on. Seriously, we’re fairly well plugged in, and would walk on fire, water, or any combination of the two for our children. But like most parents, I celebrate some moments more than others.

This afternoon I ran a quick errand into our local natural foods market. As I was fondling the 49-cent avocados (my sole reason for stopping in), I heard an announcement over the P.A. system. “We have a donation at register six!” This was soon followed by, “We just got a donation of $20 on register three!” These announcements continued as I gathered the produce and stood in line at check out. As I was paying, the checker asked if I’d like to make a donation for “autism” today. I said, “No, thanks” and was on my way.

As I was dodging puddles in the parking lot on my trek back to the car, something just didn’t feel right. And as I started the engine, the thought crossed my mind. “That isn’t right! This is Down syndrome awareness month. Autism already had its day in the spotlight.” I found myself feeling irritated. Conflicted. Guilty. None of those are in my top ten list of favorite feelings. 

And as I weaved home through the drizzle and late-afternoon traffic, my reaction started to make sense. It occurred to me that I was irked that autism was taking the spotlight from Down syndrome. It bothered me that the “spotlight” at the food market was on autism. But it also occurred to me that it was the same thing that appears to be happening in Los Angeles in general. Not only today, or October, but throughout the year.

Autism Speaks is doing a great job. And I’m thankful. My family benefits greatly from their awareness and education efforts. TACA (Talk About Curing Autism) is also very active, and has forged some incredible partnerships within the media and community in order to spread the word and ensure that autism is positioned front and center. These organizations, and several others, have fully embraced and cultivated an active presence in social media circles, public and media relations, and in general, are keeping autism front and center. Generating a buzz.

So when I heard at the market that Autism Speaks has forged a relationship to raise donations and awareness of autism for the month, I was jealous on behalf of myself (selfish, I know), my son (who, in reality, doesn’t understand these things and  wants only to be loved by those around him), and the Down syndrome community in one of the largest cities in the country. My mind was racing, toggling the signs of silence: The LA Down syndrome group Twitter account is effectively inactive, as is it’s Facebook page. The web site, should you know the address you’re looking for, is pedestrian, but does list several events and activities. There is a Buddy Walk scheduled, but I couldn’t tell you a date or location. The LA model is a bit different. All participants pay to walk, can purchase t-shirts at an additional fee, etc. So for a family to participate, it’s a large outlay.

I’ve been fortunate to connect through social media with some wonderful people around the world that are linked by a connection to Down syndrome. My Twitter feed hums with notices and recaps of wonderful experiences at Buddy Walks around the country, uniting communities in acceptance and advocacy for our kids and families. I see great things going on, but most of all, I see people connecting. And I’m left to wonder, “Why not here?”

And so, my first action of Down Syndrome Awareness month comes clear. I need to get involved. I don’t have all the answers. I may not have any. But I have a keyboard. And a phone. And a son, who 13 years ago came into our lives and made all the difference in the world. Teaching us to tune into life in a different way, and reminding us to celebrate every morning and milestone. Happy Hayden Awareness Month.