Ever get that prickle that comes when you know you’re supposed to perceive something as well-intentioned, but instead you’re filled with a foreboding sense that it’s not? Me, yesterday, upon receiving a poster that reads, “I love someone with autism!” Maybe it was frantic bold type and the exclamation point that rang of trying too hard. Maybe it was the subtle underlying inference that someone with autism might be hard to love, and that doing so was an accomplishment. Whatever it was, I Googled the phrase under Shopping—and lost any remaining gram of innocence I might have had about whether our kids are being monetized in the name of good intentions and “awareness.”
Hundreds of commercial sites want you to show them the money to show your love. Oh, the choices you have. In mere seconds, I found “I love someone with autism” posters, postcards, magnets, t-shirts, hoodies, baseball caps, trucker hats, rings, baby onesies, tote bags, note cards, cell phone cases, iPad cases, ceramic mugs, Thermos bottles, teddy bears, tile coasters, charm bracelets, bangles, silicone bracelets, pendants, ornaments, cupcake picks, license plate frames, clocks, watches, pillows, bumper stickers, journals, greeting cards, dry erase boards, aprons, postage stamps, decks of playing cards, mouse pads, earrings, jigsaw puzzles, bibs, luggage tags, key chains, bottle caps, backpacks, dog sweaters, jewelry boxes, embroidered patches and party platters . . . to name a few.
Wow. Led Zeppelin might have called that a whole lotta love. But how much of that “love” (dollars) actually reaches our kids, does them any good? Most of the hawking comes with the feel-good pitch that you’re raising autism awareness. I’m afraid I’ve been at this long enough to see these trinkets for what they are—business opportunities. A t-shirt, a keychain, a mug doesn’t raise awareness. Interacting with someone with autism raises awareness, the kind of person-to-person awareness that often fosters love. Learning how someone with autism thinks and communicates and perceives the sensory environment raises awareness, and often fosters respect, compassion and creativity. Creating educational and recreational opportunities for someone with autism, however small and personal the gesture, raises awareness, and fosters friendship and self-confidence. Buying a book about autism to lend to friends or donate to a library or parent group or auction spreads hard information and actionable awareness.
I too love someone with autism. Many someones. And I hope I always do my humble best to raise awareness, to spur action. I just don’t have any doo-dads to prove it.