This is my third year blogging and I really want to dig into what Autism Awareness means to me. I know this month is important to many people for many reasons, but I think “awareness” is a trite term. I think of Autism Awareness more as Autism Education.

My first autism awareness month was shortly after I started blogging. I was focused on getting more information out there to people. I did a lot of cut/paste type things, and while it worked I was still finding my voice. I was still very angry, very much in the grieving process and had something to prove.

My second autism awareness month had a year of growth behind it. I cataloged some personal accomplishments as well as some community accomplishments. I like that format, and I’m going to update some of those.

Raymond has growing friendships with several kids, some with autism and some neurotypical.

Our play group has 50 families.

Raymond regularly self advocates and runs much less.

Raymond is in a typical first grade classroom and is at grade level or above in all subjects.

It blows me away to read some of that. From what we were told by doctors at diagnosis to where he is now is worlds apart. A few things that have changed in the community since last year are:

ASNV has hosted a Wrightslaw Conference and done a discount Kings Dominion program for Fredericksburg families.

The FRAAG successfully started an Adults with Aspergers social group that had over 40 people at its first meeting.

Commonwealth families have a real shot at autism insurance reform thanks to the diligent efforts of the Virginia Autism Project.

The Affordable Care Act began requiring insurers to pay for autism diagnostic services, a huge win for families across the country.

Its been a big year. I think what I said last year is true: education is communication. Talking to people about this stuff is what helps them understand. I know its hard sometimes to share very personal family information, but if we don’t show the world what our lives are like how can they understand?

I have actually come to enjoy the extended debate where folks, either F2F or on the web, try to tell me how to “control” my kid or why he shouldn’t be in a mainstream classroom. I think, as advocates, we have to encourage people to say the things they think aloud. This serves 2 purposes. First, it allows them to hear how ridiculous it sounds, and second, it gives us the opportunity to replace that preconceived notion with actual facts. Its difficult not to snap back with something smarmy. Believe me, I’m a lifetime member of the Smartass Guild. However, its critical we foster open debate and teach rather than preach.

I hope you’ll use this month to talk to some folks about autism on a personal level. Blogging, tweeting, facebook and the like are great ways to reach a bunch of people, but nothing reaches people better than hearing the truth from a live human being. Happy April.

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