Here’s how you can help my son. He needs more than ‘awareness’ of autism.

My oldest son is judged every time he walks into a world that celebrates autism awareness but fails to include him in everyday life. His notebook is filled with similar drawings, the observations of a boy who doesn’t know his worth, who questions himself, who is made fun of, often subtly or behind the backs of adults who would protect him.

On another page, he writes, “Stop bullying, okay.”

Awareness is empty if we don’t teach our neurotypical kids to stand up for and with their peers who are different. Awareness is meaningless if people tolerate but don’t include — if we collectively fail to see the full humans in front of us or dismiss them because they don’t act the way we think they should.

My son shouldn’t have to mask who he is to be accepted. Here are some things the wider world can do on the other 364 days of the year to move toward inclusion — and real change — for autistic children and adults.

Allies and advocates can help by not propagating the idea that eye contact is a sign of active listening. Many autistic people struggle with making eye contact, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t processing communication or “listening.” This is pervasive even at our generally supportive school, where a sign in my autistic son’s classroom promoted eye contact when he was in second grade. When I asked about it, the teacher told me that middle-school students had made it. That means no one had told them how exclusionary it was or how offensive that can be. Stop demanding that people listen only one way.

Recognize tools that help people with autism, such as fidgets. Many schools limit or ban fidgets, considering them toys. But fidgets are designed to help with sensory regulation and focus. Many people benefit from them, not just those with autism. My son with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder uses a fidget when he’s reading to help him concentrate. When I teach in person, I bring a basket of fidgets into my college classroom for anyone to access.

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Andy Cramer

Andy Cramer

Our new company, ExendaTouch, is free and enables family caregivers to connect anonymously, find non-profit resources close by and read our daily blog.