April is Autism Awareness Month. The celebration of autism awareness in the month of April is an extension of April 2, World Autism Awareness Day, an official day set aside by the United Nations to draw attention to ASD, focusing in raising awareness of this neurological condition.
This year’s focus for World Autism Awareness Day is in raising awareness of girls and women on the spectrum. #aspiegirls #girlsandwomenonthespectrum #autisticgirlsandwomen
“The 2018 World Autism Awareness Day observance at United Nations Headquarters New York will focus on the importance of empowering women and girls with autism and involving them and their representative organizations in policy and decision making to address these challenges.
Girls with disabilities are less likely to complete primary school and more likely to be marginalized or denied access to education. Women with disabilities have a lower rate of employment than men with disabilities and women without disabilities. Globally, women are more likely to experience physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence than men, and women and girls with disabilities experience gender-based violence at disproportionately higher rates and in unique forms owing to discrimination and stigma based on both gender and disability. As a result of inaccessibility and stereotyping, women and girls with disabilities are persistently confronted with barriers to sexual and reproductive health services and to information on comprehensive sex education, particularly women and girls with intellectual disabilities including autism.” [source]
I am all for focusing attention on girls and women on the spectrum. That’s because many autistic girls have fallen through the net in terms of diagnosis which means that they will miss out on early interventions that could be of great help to them. Research has shown that boys are genetically predisposed to be autistic than girls. There are many reasons for this which my post will not go into at length; there are many articles that can be found online, for those who are interested. I’ve linked a couple for reference in this post to help those who want to find out more. Researchers have found that girls are better at hiding their autism and in finding ways to cope with their perceived disability. In fact, girls without an intellectual disability (high functioning autistics) have been shown to mask their symptoms better compared to their male counterparts and are therefore invisible as autistics in plain sight. An aspie (Asperger Syndrome) woman I spoke to told me that she forces herself to make eye contact during conversations even when it causes her discomfort because she has been told that eye contact is important during dialogues: She has learnt to cope. Her diagnosis came late in life; for her, a diagnosis has brought relief and self-acceptance; it has brought an understanding of who she is and why.
To commemorate autism and autistics, the world is lit in blue for the day. Supporters and activists for Autism Awareness wear blue to encourage conversations about autism and in this, raising more awareness. Of course, raising awareness is not the same as raising acceptance. Many will know that awareness does not necessarily lead to acceptance. But it’s a start. Hopefully, the more awareness that is raised, the more acceptance there will be.
As a book author, conversations are important to me. Conversations are important too in helping young readers find the vocabulary to talk about social issues that are challenging and difficult. I talk about my book to many who ask what I do because I believe strongly in the book’s message: to raise awareness of ASD through literature. I’m aware that my protagonist is a boy on the spectrum and that his favourite colour is blue–all very cliched, I understand. The book as many know is an adaptation of The Wayang Kids, a film directed by Raymond Tan of Brainchild Pictures. Open or Benjamin Oh is Raymond’s character. Open represents that child in us who wants to be loved and accepted for who we are. I have taken Open out of the movie and given him a backstory and a voice in the book. The bridging of moving image and text is ever more important in this time and age because children are more likely to watch a film over reading a book. As a writer, I strongly encourage reading because books help us enter different worlds using our imaginations from words alone. Of course, movies do that too but in a different sort of way. The tagline for Raymond and my collaboration is “same-same but different” which is also the tagline used by Autism Network Singapore to facilitate a meta-reading and understanding of ASD.
The photo you see was taken in Sri Lanka by a friend and reader. She has kindly given me permission to share this because books travel and I’d like to share Open’s travels with the world. I’ve created a visual travelogue for Open because it’s a fun project and one that is easy to do. So far, Open has travelled to ~Japan, ~Germany, ~United Kingdom, ~United States of America, ~France, ~Sri Lanka, ~Italy and will be travelling to ~Croatia in the summer. This is all to raise awareness of autism through storytelling.
Where will Open travel to next? Be that next traveller to bring Open to your neck of the woods. Take a selfie or reference your destination (like this photo which was taken in front of Galle Library, Sri Lanka) and then use the hashtag, #OpenEveryChildMatters.