This time last year I was beginning to realise that Melon was definitely autistic, but I was only just beginning to plug into the online autism community. Austism awareness day/month in April passed me by.
So this year, when everyone started talking about autism awareness day, autism awareness month and “light it up blue” I was curious, and began to read around to see what it was all about.
I discovered that the month of April, and 2nd April in particular, are marked by campaigns to raise awareness of autism. I learned that Autism Speaks, the US charity whose agenda I have fundamental problems with, spearhead their awareness campaign with the slogan “light it up blue” (LIUB). I learned that groups, organisations, companies and official bodies the world over have as a result adopted blue as the colour to symbolise autism. And it made me think.
What does blue represent to me?
Nature, the sky, water?
Maybe a mood, a negative mood, “feeling low” or “feeling blue”?
It could represent gender – since the early 20th century blue has been associated with masculinity, whereas prior to this time pink was the traditional colour for boys.
But Autism? – as a result of the “LIUB” campaign, blue has become associated with autism awareness in the same way that pink has with breast cancer, and red with HIV.
Why should autism be Blue?
The main reason behind the colour choice was simple – a colour had to be picked, and as males outnumber females on the autism spectrum, Blue was chosen.
Whilst this gender disparity is true, there are still significant numbers of females who live life on the autism spectrum. I actually believe that as screening for autism becomes more sophisticated, and there develops more understanding different ways in which females on the spectrum may present compared to their male counterparts, the current disparity will be reduced.
But even without these developments, my daughter Melon is an autistic GIRL. The colour blue, chosen because of it’s association with males, does not in any way represent her.
Something else came to mind.
Autism is a SPECTRUM.
EVERY SINGLE autistic person is a unique individual with their own set of strengths, abilities challenges and interests. The gifts that autistic people bring to the world are rich and diverse, and their lives, wherever on the spectrum they live them, are valuable. Autistic people are Males and females, they are all races, all faiths, all nationalities, all sexualities. Autism transcends borders, economic classes, social hierarchies. Autism is a spectrum that stretches right the way around this world.
Why SHOULD it be Blue? It is a SPECTRUM. Why can’t it blaze with colour? To raise awareness, promote acceptance, increase understanding of Autism, surely we need something that TRULY represents it – the dark, the light, the fire, the calm, the muted, the vibrant, the spectrum.
Some people have commented that they feel the image of the rainbow/spectrum is too closely associated with the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender equality movement, and whole they have no issue with homosexuality, they feel using the same colours would confuse people. I say this: there are many awareness campaigns that “share” the same colour – for example purple is a associated with epilepsy and several types of cancer, red is associated with heart disease and HIV. There is no rule stating that only one movement/campaign can use a particular set of colours.
But more than this, I feel there is a certain amount of similarity in the spirit of the LGBT movement and in the campaign for autism awareness. Neither autism nor homosexuality are illnesses, they are just variations of the normal human condition. Members of both the LGBT and autistic communities can face significant amounts of predjuduce, misunderstanding and even abuse from the wider population. Both the LGBT and autistic communities want the same thing. To be allowed to be who they are, to love as they see fit, to have the same chances in employment and education as others, to live free of harassment.
To be recognised, to be understood, to be accepted.
And that right there is my final point. Awareness alone is not enough, autism and autistic people also need understanding and acceptance if they are to stand truly as equals within our society, within our schools and workplaces. What good is knowing that a person is autistic if you lack basic understanding of things such as sensory differences, and if you judge or criticise a person’s behavious through lack of understanding the reasons for these.
So this April, and throughout the year, I will be supporting #colortheworld – a movement begun by a group of autism parents, no different to you and I – to raise awareness AND understanding AND acceptance for autistic people. On 2nd April I will be wearing as many colours as I can fit Into an outfit, and drawing rainbows on my hands. I will use the interest this brings from others to talk about autism as much as I possibly can.
Blue is just one color. Let’s bring on the spectrum.