Is today a celebration or a campaign?
I'm honestly not sure and quite frankly am not bothering to chose! I treat WAAD as both a chance to express my passion for promoting awareness of Autism and to indulge my inner ego's desire to say 'yes I am doing well and I'm damn proud of it!'
The thing is, these two elements are so deeply intertwined and most of the world doesn't even see it; my need for validation that 'yes I am a functioning, society-contributing, independent adult' comes not from a place of vanity or hubris but from a place of loneliness and fear, a place that was born from the way the world treats the word 'Autism' and the overwhelming negativeness that Autistic people are subjected to.
I hope as we move forward in the 21st century we (as a species) can continue to grow and remember that were it not for the evolution of things like opposable thumbs and language that we would not have become the race we are today. I'm not saying that the Autistic brain is the new evolution of humanity, but is it so wrong to think that maybe, its an evolutionary response to the world we've created? Is the emergence of more common sensory issues directly linked to the massive expansion of things that demand our senses take notice?
I'm not talking about the recent growth of the technology word here but a more fundamental shift that occurred generations ago - the industrial revolution opened the door to loud, in-your-face, constant noises and smells. The world suddenly got a lot louder and with it came a change in what we saw, wore, smelt, tasted. Global communities sprang up sharing new exotic tastes, new fabrics and dyes came into public fashion, the need for marketing and advertising suddenly became apparent. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I've misunderstood history, but the way I see it is that not too long ago (in an evolutionary sense) the world was quiet, calm and less busy. Now, its considered an achievement if you can find 'peace and quiet' for more than a few minutes!
I fully support the NAS's current 'Too Much Information' campaign; I whole heartedly agree that we need less overstimulation in the world. We're never going to stop dogs barking, babies crying or even (unfortunately) traffic being traffic, but maybe we can start to think about what is truly needed and what is surplus. Speaking as someone who working in the education field one of the first things I always talking about sensory-wise is how bad schools are for over stimulating children visually! I know OFSTED (cough *bastards* cough) love to see classroom walls covered in displays and information but this can be incredibly overwhelming for the Autistic mind - I actually got triggered into sensory overload from a primary school classroom once the walls were so busy! (And that's without mentioning the smell/sounds of the class pet in the corner, the school bell ringing, the children screaming outside on break!)
Its sad to think but these days I'm not sure I could cope with living in a big busy city like London, and that to me is one of the biggest problems I 'suffer' from. I was born in London, I love the city and have always intended to return there one day, maybe even after a stint living abroad somewhere like San Francisco or Boston, but I'm genuinely not sure if I would be able to cope with the constant overstimulation that those big cities generate. Certainly not alongside the stresses and issues that come with full-time work anyway. God knows its hard enough sometimes managing just living in a town - although in my defence I live next to an industrial estate and railway tracks!
I think ultimately the world as a concept has both grown and shrunk too fast for us as a species to keep up with, we exist now in society where I can speak to someone in Australia whilst eating food that originated in Asia, typing on piece of technology from America, and watching a rugby match being played in Europe! 4 generations back and my family didn't even know what electricity was!
If I could ask one thing of the world on World Autism Awareness Day it would be 'please stop stacking the deck against us' - we exist, we walk and work among you, please stop making our lives so much harder than they need to be.