By Dawn Cranfield
Autism Awareness around the World
The American Psychiatric Association may have reclassified autism as “autism spectrum disorder” in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), confusing things for some, but for others, it has shed light on the subject and opened up the discussion for others. Regardless of how you view it, there has never been a greater awareness for autism around the world than there is now.
April has been officially declared Autism Awareness month since 2010 with the calming blue light selected to represent those who support the initiative to raise awareness about the growing health concern facing so many. The campaign has been embraced by government officials, big businesses, and private citizens concerned with the crisis.
On April 2, 2010, buildings and homes around the world were lit up with blue lights in showing their support of the movement launched by Autism Speaks. More than 100 buildings in over 16 US cities and 9 countries are known to have sported the lights that first year. Among them, some of our most treasured buildings, The Empire State Building, Madison Square Garden, The New York Stock Exchange, various governor’s mansions, capitol buildings, and international buildings such as Kingdom Tower Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The effort to bring awareness to such a noble cause is uplifting, especially when it is a global effort.
While, not everyone is as supportive of the blue lights, in fact, some are outright offended by the cause.
An anonymous poison pen letter arrived at the home of the Riccardi’s in Charlotte, NC. They had replaced their traditional regular lighting with a blue light for the month of April to celebrate their 10-year-old son, Deacon, who was born with autism.
The letter read, “Seriously? Purple, blue lights on the garage? Mom always said there is one bad apple in the bunch.” (wcnc.com)
Was the letter writer referring to his or her own selfish and ignorant behavior?
They went on to infer that the Home Owner’s Association (HOA) might have an issue with the lighting. However, the HOA could not have been more supportive; according to the boy’s mother, Julie Riccardi, “They were very compassionate. Apologized on behalf of whoever that it was that did this.” (wcnc.com)
The cowardly neighbor who sent the letter without a return address had their campaign backfire; when word spread about what had happened to the Riccardi’s, nearly a dozen more neighbors lit their homes with blue lights.
Matthew Riccardi has a message to the offended letter-writer, “It’s OK if you don’t under something. It’s even OK if you don’t agree with something. But at least have the courtesy to ask.” (wcnc.com)
While the Riccardi’s anonymous and insensitive neighbor appears to be clueless about autism spectrum disorder, Wayne Bartley of Southaven, Mississippi, is quietly doing his part to raise awareness. For 13 years, Bartley has held an annual golf tournament benefiting autism research, with total proceeds of nearly $250,000.
DeSoto County, where Southaven is located, has 240 autistic children, the highest rate in Mississippi State.
Phillip Press, an autistic teen in Bakersfield, California, is taking matters into his own hands with raising consciousness about autism. This talented young man is sharing his gift of art and love for wild animals online, “”My favorite African big cat is the lion because they are the only big cats that live in groups. I like the females better than the males because I like how they do the hunting in the wild and another reason too is they look after each other’s cubs.” (turnto23.com)
So, even though April is over and the “official” awareness month has ended, it is not too late to continue delving into the vast ocean of what is unknown about the world of autism, or autism spectrum disorder. Like everything else in life, if something were misunderstood, as in the case of the Riccardi’s neighbors, instead of a hateful poison pen letter, perhaps the neighborly and American thing to do would be to just ask.