Over the past two months, I have had the amazing opportunity to talk with volunteers from a great nonprofit about autism.
These two trainings (with one more coming up in about two weeks) were more than just throwing up a PowerPoint and shooting off some stats about autism. I always wanted it to be more than that. We had discussions. We dispelled myths. We got personal as the volunteers began to realize that the behavior of those around them made so much more sense now. I met one volunteer’s autistic teen son and had a rousing conversation about Pokemon Go and what he wants to do for a career. I spoke with clients of the nonprofit itself who listened in out of curiosity. For some, they walked in with the extent of their knowledge of autism consisting of the movie Rain Man. They left knowing more, and most importantly, wanting to know much more. One even asked if she could bring her teen children to the next training.
This is the gap I hope to fill. The concept of autism awareness has become, to me, something of a gimmick. Light everything in blue, raise some money, and then business as usual until next year. Meanwhile, families continue to face battles everyday coming from the lack of actual awareness and acceptance in the world at large. Hardly anyone in my trainings knew that autism had anything to do with sensory processing and sensitivity. They didn’t know that an autism “meltdown” is different from a regular tantrum. They had no idea what having autism feels or looks like.
They know now.
If that 1.5 hour training helps them understand, build acceptance, and be willing to talk to someone whose experience is different from theirs without judgement, then I consider it Mission Accomplished.
FYI: The nonprofit where I have been training volunteers is called the JW House, a place for families of hospitalized individuals to unwind and feel welcomed. Check them out below!