Today is World Autism Awareness Day. On this day, we shine a light on autism in the hope that those living with autism will feel less alone and know that people around the world celebrate, support, and welcome their difference, their uniqueness.
Sometimes when a person becomes identified with a label, that label becomes all anyone sees. But as is true with members of any group, whether easily identifiable or not, we are all so much more than our labels.
If you’re wondering what to do when you encounter an adult or a child like my 17-year-old son Jukie, I have some suggestions.
Talk to them. Even though my son cannot use spoken language, he, like everyone, appreciates attention and respectful acknowledgement.
Show kindness and compassion, as you would any other person. Be kind in your tone, in your curiosity, as well as in the content of your words.
Welcome them. Include them. If you’re throwing a party, invite them. If you observe a difficult moment, offer assistance or a kind word.
Discuss their special interests with them. Have patience when they’re having a hard day. We all have hard days.
Hire them. People with autism need and want meaningful and productive employment. All of us want something to do, a way to contribute.
Know that people with autism, like the rest of us, are individuals. As the expression goes: if you meet one person with autism, then you’ve met one person with autism. Don’t shy away from what it means to “meet” someone.
Get to know them. Sit with them; join them in silence. See what they see. Enjoy their company.
Love them. The response to that love may be atypical, but the connection can nevertheless be authentic and consequential for you both.