Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Hues of Autism Awareness

In two days it will be World Autism Day. In the past week I've looked over midterm marks, planned how I will celebrate World Autism Day and finalized an apology letter to the teachers back in my high school.

Apology letter? Why?

Today I'm here to tell a story. Similar to my last post, it begins with a young person by the initials FA. A young person unknowing that puzzle pieces represented incompleteness, a person unsolvable as Schrodinger's Wave Equation. A fourteen-year-old standing in her living room one night in April 2011 as her mom watched CP24 announce it was World Autism Awareness Day and her own CN Tower and Niagara Falls were lighting up blue for Autism. In excitement, at her hP laptop she Print-screen-sys-rq on CP24's website and saved the photo to her computer. Forgetting to delete it before backing up her former laptop's hard drive as it started breaking and amidst a search for a Windows 7 laptop just as Microsoft launches Windows 10, its binary digits will not be resuscitated for deletion from a 2 TB external hard drive until she finally find a Windows 7 laptop. (Yes, just as Windows 10 is being released. No wonder it is taking too long.)

Canadian Cancer Society Main Office
For those of you that know what Autism Speaks is, skip the next few sentences. For those that don't know, Autism Speaks, though told to be the largest organization worldwide for Autism, is also one of the most hurtful. It promotes that we, the Autistic, are burdens to those that we know and need our Autism removed if we shall function in today's society. For example, its founder Susan Wright compared having three million Autistic children in the United States to having three million missing children. (Shudder.) The organization released a video in 2009 called "I am Autism" in which a voice states that Autism is worse than "pediatric AIDS, cancer and diabetes combined" and that we "know no morality." But we, the Autistic, are not what Autism Speaks portrays us to be. Because I can focus deeply on my passions of global equality and the Sciences, I am succeeding in first-year Engineering with visions of leading the the renewable energy industry. My passion for social justice fuels my blog and landed me a scholarship. Surely I must not lack at least a molecule of morality? I will fundraise this April for the Canadian Cancer Society's Daffodil Days. Last year I raised $175.75 at a subway station for them and coordinated a team to raise over $300 at my high school. Does it sound worse than cancer? Surely this cannot be Autistic? Autism Speaks cannot speak for me.

Two years passed and I was an eleventh-grade student swirling sodium hydroxide flasks for my Chemistry teacher (I used to volunteer for him), urging my fellow Student Parliament members to serve halal food or at least post disclaimers at our events, celebrating my success arranging Pink Shirt Day and organizing an Autism Awareness campaign at my high school. For a week leading up to World Autism Day, I performed announcements highlighting the medical view of curing Autism and challenged the school to consider how much it hurt. If you didn't know me you wouldn't have known that "their" were based on "mine." I concluded with a final announcement on World Autism Day shouting with enthusiasm to focus on the positive in Autistic individuals. Yet my campaign was not black and white in the call to acceptance, yet rather splashed with my organized Wear-it-Blue and success for at least a third of teachers and students came that day in blue tops and hijabs.

Fast-forward a year and the twelfth-grade FA was celebrating her three early acceptances to university, stressing over a novel-sized Writer's Craft project and organizing an Autism Awareness campaign. This time I planned a single-day announcement. If you saw my previous blog (and if you didn't, don't worry) you would know that I abandoned researching Autism and spoke in pretense that I interviewed another student. (As I said, does the Autistic need Google to look up Autism?) Those that knew I had Asperger's Syndrome saw through the supposed interview. Otherwise the one with FA's initials was and was not Autistic, Schrodinger's duality. Some never suspected I didn't interview a student. My French teacher from the ninth grade complemented my announcement in the hallway. My Chemistry teacher from the eleventh grade complemented me with "Nice announcement!" smiling at me in a blue shirt. That's right. I ran Wear it Blue once again. My Physics teacher showed up in class in a blue sweater. My blue sleeve raised my hand to his questions. The only blessing in disguise was that I did not promote Wear it Blue well in advance and it was only those that I personally told to wear Blue that remembered. I had been glad seeing my teachers promoting Autism Acceptance and proud to not only hear the announcement compliments knowing that I was almost starting a revolution of Autism Acceptance. I didn't know I had to fear that I sent the wrong message or complain that I left it behind, that of all the questions I could have asked, taking up my teachers' time with them, there was one I never asked.

Albert Einstein stated, "The important thing is not to stop questioning." For three years and a half I did not question Autism's association with the colour blue. I assumed using blue for Autism awareness seldom differed from using white in the commitment to end violence against women, pink for Pink Shirt Day, the pride flag to celebrate LGBTQ individuals and yellow for cancer. I never questioned their history - who wants another Montreal Massacre? Who wants a kid bullied for wearing a pink shirt? Why should we call a person unworthy for the gender of their crush or themselves? Who wants cancer? Nobody. I didn't need to question them for I almost memorized the story of Pink Shirt Day, read in July that the late NDP leader Jack Layton begun the white ribbon campaign, discovered that the rainbow flag was started by a LGBTQ advocate and read walking through the Canadian Cancer Society's main office as an office volunteer last summer about Daffodil Days's first days. I didn't consider that Autism's association with blue had a more sinister story, a bit closer to a pink triangle than a pride flag.

Regretfully I admit that I only discovered last December 22nd as I prepared to launch Arriving at. Awetsome. the next day, carefully tailoring my Google search to uncover Autism's association with the colour blue, trying to ensure I made no mistakes in my blog. Along with Autism Speaks's official website, Google returned Why I will not light it blue on Huffington Post and other complaining Autism advocates. The passenger assistance alarm had been pulled and finally the train had stopped. Finally the flashlight revealed Autism Speaks's name beside the blue photons.

How did I get away with hosting Wear it Blue in a public institution, in a high school, moreover a high school which had a semi-segregated program specifically for Autistic students? (I didn't qualify as 'severe' enough to be in the program and therefore had an integrated experience. Meanwhile I see little difference between them, I and the school's other students.) A few teachers in my school were known Autism Speaks supporters and wouldn't have put down Wear it Blue. Yet what about the teachers that promoted a respective environment for me, from the teacher who suggested the name Awetsome for my blog to my in-school Daffodil Days supervisor to my Equity Club supervisors? How did it pass under their noses, alongside the school's at-least-thirty more staff and its Principal? They simply did not know. As the fourteen-year-old teenager watching the SONY HD on April 2nd in 2011, they inhaled the same double-standard from the media that while Autism is something to be cured, there are mathematical geniuses whose brains succeed from Autism. They, as I, had heard the voice of reporters and disappointed parents rather than the Autistic themselves. They, as I, had heard about the CN Tower and Niagara Falls shining their 475-nanometre-emmiting LEDs to raise awareness. None of us - teachers, students, community members and I alike - noticed hatred beneath the surface. I therefore am unsurprised that no one questioned my initiative. Light it Blue fooled an Autism advocate after all. If my teachers had known about Autism Speaks's devaluing work, I imagine at least five teachers potentially pulling me from class or calling me to their offices on our lunch break. Both campaigns would have ended before execution if my own Equity Club supervisors had caught me. I wouldn't have projected the colour blue to my school community, a community with Autistic students, a community where many could warm my heart in respect and excitement for difference. I wouldn't have searched for a teacher back in my high school to convey my apology to its staff. I took almost three years to notice that I had led a team into the rain without an umbrella, for I live on a planet where few notice storm clouds forming.

Some Autistic advocates argue that we do not need awareness but acceptance. I want to tailor this definition. We need awareness of the need for acceptance. We need awareness that we, the Autistic, are not your mother's troublesome child. Yes, since I was a baby I woke up my mom at 6 AM in the morning on weekends. It was just something that made me me, just as another kid points out ice cream while passing Baskin Robins in a mall. We need awareness that we, the Autistic, can turn our passions and obsessions to strengths. When I was a child I made story after story. At almost 16, I got published in a short-story contest and at 17 I earned the highest mark in my writer's craft course. When I was young I constantly touched the furniture in my relatives' houses. (They were extremely strict and so I was told off most of the time.) The same curiosity made me one of my high school's strongest Science students last year. We need awareness that there is nothing wrong with our sensitivies, or seeming lack of them. My emotional ability is strong enough that I can't watch regular movies. My emotional ability is so strong that I can blog for social justice and was once called one of the unlikeliest to become a Macbeth. We need awareness that we, Autistic individuals, are hurting. Hurting in being shuttled between therapies. Hurting in being told off for being ourselves, for doing something simply because nobody else is doing it. Hurting because those of us that are non-verbal are accused of not being able to communicate. Hurting because we are told that we shouldn't need to close our ears when an ordinary conversation almost blares. Hurting because each month I cannot survive Google without finding even the mere outline of a link against Autism. It's time we stop the hurting. It's time we stop seeking to light the CN Tower with blue quanta at 0.3 million kilometres per second and rather shine the light on Autism. Talent will glint in the pool of your flashlight if we change the direction we point them. We were never able to read books in the nighttime as long as we pointed our flashlight to the window.

If not blue on Thursday, then what colour? I heard that several Autism advocates are going red. Yet since Monday December 22nd, my mind is fixed on purple. It is my blog's colour after all. You'll see on my Twitter that I used a black permanent marker tinged with violet to write "Arriving at. Awetsome." on a piece of plastic. What better way to celebrate my own Awetsome this Thursday than violet? Yes, I'll need to work my way around wearing my blue spring jacket and still stay warm as Torontionian temperatures fluctuate between zero and ten degrees this week. Maybe I'll layer all my non-blue sweaters, transforming into an indoor sweat machine for a day? I do need to replace my running shoes's blue laces. Yet I look back at the simplicity of a blue shirt, at a blue CN Tower, blue Niagara falls and blue who-knows-what-else. Scientifically, violet light is higher-energy than blue light. It's time to challenge you to look beyond the blue, to take the extra energy to not believe the news' simple facts - and smile in the power of nuance.

- FA

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