How do we support families & raise autism awareness?
Our tag line is "living life with autism" My youngest son Henry is living his life with autism. We, his parents, siblings, extended family and friends are living our lives with autism in it. And everyone is living their lives with autism all around them whether they are aware of it or not. So, I guess the "raising awareness and supporting families" is then our Autism Threads mission statement in a way but, how do we actually do it?
There are over 700,000 people diagnosed as autistic in the UK. Including their families, it comes to 2.8m people! These are the people we aim to support through our products, a monthly blog and newsletter anyone can sign up to. It is through these families and the more generic products we sell that we hope to attract the general public with, as that is where the awareness needs to be raised.
Our products are all items that can be worn or seen whilst out and about such as caption t-shirts and other clothing items plus a range of accessories all designed to support both the wearer (autism specific), their relatives and friends (generic), and ANYONE wanting to help raise awareness and look good, feel good and do good through our fashion (not autism specific) items.
Autism is not visually recognisable so how would anyone know? And would they have the courage to ask? Our products are about bringing autism to peoples attention and providing quick split second visual cues so that others can set their expectations accordingly and not judge.
It goes beyond this though because if we are to stop people judging first they need to understand so our focus is always to inform as well as be positive and uplifting. There are so many incredible things about being autistic and we want them and their families to be proud and feel understood and supported. Sadly this is most often not the case as public perceptions of autism are woeful. I more than anything want to change those perceptions. How will I do this if nobody asks me? How can I start those conversations to help people learn about autism? I don't want mothers and their autistic children who come after me to suffer the same daily looks, stares, comments and judgements my son and I have done.
You think people don't do it because you wouldn't? Think again. I have had things like "he can't be autistic because he is not banging his head on the floor?" said to me, and "Oh sure he's autistic, that's everybody's excuse these days, you're a sh*t mum and he needs discipline" and "he can't be autistic because autistic people don't have a sense of humour" and "have you given yourself time to grieve for the son you are never going to have?" Yup, just to oh, name a few I can't seem to shake from my memory.
These are not the worst though, it's the looks that both my son and I get every single time we step out of the front door that makes me so angry, sad, frustrated, wrongly judged, powerless to stop, depressed, worried for his future.
I have had two children before Henry and I want to engage with those who know nothing about autism so badly too. It was me once upon a time and I think it's important for us autism parents to set our expectations correctly also. How is Joe Public supposed to know that our children's behaviours are not something other than what looks like kinda rude, naughty, weird, odd, impolite? These things happen in mere seconds sometimes and all it takes is a small, helpful subtle, discreet visual cue. Not a label or warning sign but a helpful heads-up in what we hope is a stylish and positive way...
There is no way a person who even thinks they know they have recognised autism is going to go up and ask that child/adult or their carer, no way. If there is a visual cue to assure them it's an immediate invitation to start a conversation and ask. And by asking I mean if there is anything they can do to help if it's a difficult situation or simply ask the everyday questions you ask others to help you learn about them and how they see the world a bit more.
So, it was either tattoo "autistic" across my son Henry's forehead or come up with some t-shirt captions. You'll be relieved to know it was the latter, and here some of them are...
When others have seen an Autism Threads product that either my son or I have been wearing and we strike up a conversation I am always so moved by them. Henry has this amazing ability to completely melt peoples hearts, it only takes a few moments, no words needed. He knows when he is accepted and once that person has been made aware and allows him to engage in his own way (eye contact, or gesture or sometimes he will stroke their arm or face), he has them almost spellbound. He completely fascinates, embraces, amazes and warms them. That is all I want for my son, to be accepted for who he is, no apologies.