Saturday, April 2, 2011
I don't know about you, but when I was young, I wasn't thinking I'd be walking around in public weeping because I made eye contact with other people.
On Friday night, here in Sydney, I did just that.
It was a spontaneous leaky eye moment. You know the ones - they happen at weddings, when babies are born (to other people... doing it yourself brings on a whole different kind of tears), in the supermarket when you see a single old man buying frozen apple pies (maybe it's just me... but that makes me sad).
Walking down Circular Quay at sunset, holding hands with my tiny man in blue, my eyes just wouldn't stay dry. Billy was excited about seeing the Opera House, and even more excited by the gigantic flock of bats circling overhead. We were headed to see the Opera House sails being lit up blue for autism awareness, along with other families just like us.
Every time I locked eyes with another mother clasping the hands of her child dressed in blue. Tears. Every time I saw a little one with a skippy irregular walk. Tears. Every time I heard a Pokemon induced American accent coming out of an Aussie kid. Tears.
Now, those of you with one of 'those' brains might just be thinking, hang on... Friday night...? That's not April 2. Friday night was April 1. What's she doing... some kind of autism flavoured April Fool's joke?
To be honest, I ask myself the same question. I too, am wondering why Australia chose to celebrate World Autism Awareness Day a day earlier than the rest of the world. We weren't going to miss the chance to see our awesome Opera House lit up blue, in honour of Billy and so very many people like him. But it definitely felt a bit odd doing it on a different date to our international community.
I think this is really important. And I now I may be a bit odd in this (surprise!), it's just a day, isn't it? But work with me for a second.
I think solidarity is crucial in this autism fight. I think it is a fight, too.
We all have our issues in our own lives (and you kind readers share the load on many of our issues just by listening to my random ravings). We all worry about funding, and services and schooling and intervention and organisational respect and recognition. These are very important things in our day to day lives, as individuals and as organisations defined (touched/ruled) by autism.
But on World Autism Awareness Day, those are not the important issues to me. On World Autism Awareness Day, we stand together, identifying what makes us the same - autism. While we stand together, we show that we are proud, we are concerned, we are determined to fight. We show that we are aware of our rising numbers because we are standing among them. We show that we care about each other. We show we will not apologise for our difference, no matter how socially inconvenient we are - individually or as a group (anyone who knows autism knows we didn't have a chance in hell of covering up the oddness on Friday night).
So, even though I am sure there was some completely credible administrative reason why the Sydney Opera House was lit up blue a day early, I do not like it. I find it disrespectful to our community. Why is it OK to say to autistic people, 'Surely the day before is good enough for your celebration...?'
The UN mandated day to highlight autism awareness is 2 April. It is a brilliant thing, in my mind, that the international autism community has that day. We should use it. Together.
We have World Autism Awareness Month to individualise and institutionalise our awareness raising and celebration. A whole month to make the symbology a more immediate reality. On one day, we stand together as an ever growing world community of people and let the autism be. With timezones, it stretches out to a day and a half of April 2-ness. Or, close to three days, if you add the Australian choice to move to April 1... dilute the message, much?
Having said all of that, the compromise position made me cry.
It was beautiful to meet families like ours, in public and not have to worry about who was doing odd stuff. Billy (being a cheetah) stalked well dressed couples on their way to the theatre (ostriches... nice creative touch, I thought). We also had Sonic the Hedgehog, Pokemon and the odd Harry Potter character jumping around doing their thing. We heard lots of misplaced pronouns, and saw lots of impulsive charging about.
Most of all, we stood in a small sea of blue clothing, bathed in blue light from the sails of the Sydney Opera House and smiled proudly.
It felt good to know we are not alone. There is safety in numbers.
Which is handy, because there were cheetahs about.
Posted by Valerie Foley at 4:42 PM