Autism Awareness

April is Autism awareness month. Usually I see these kinds of awareness campaigns as a little bit of fun for a good cause and hopefully somewhere along the line one or two people will be reached and that would be a successful campaign. This time around I pushed for a fairly simple project at work supporting the global call to ‘Go Blue for Autism’.

A simple process where all of our staff wear blue every Friday this month and we hand out flyers (which I also translated into Shona with some interesting results) and we educated our staff. I had a lot of conversations with idividual staff members about what exactly Autism is and what they can do to help. I was really amazed by how little all of them knew!! Sometimes I take my experience and education for granted.

So 13days into Autism Awareness month and it’s amazing how involved all of them are. They want to know more and they want to share it with their friends and families and they actually love being more informed. The biggest thing with Autism in Africa (and most mental health issues) is that no one talks about it. No one really seem to know much about it and more often than not, the person suffering is written off by their families and locked away; kept as a prisoner in their own home, simply because no one knows how to ‘handle them’. No has bothered to educate future parents on the very real possibility that their child will not be like every other child… that their child might be different. And by different I do not just mean have Autism or any other mental illness, I also mean that their boy mightlike playing withdolls and that their daughter might grow up not wanting to marry a guy… There is still a lot of forced rules placed on everyone and if your child or your family do not fit this mold perfectly, you must be ashamed? What kind of a world do we live in where a father might hate his own daughter for being gay or a mother writing off her baby because he does not respond like other kids? An uneducated one!

Awareness campaigns are so common right now that it’s easy to start thinking that they are just a way to kill time or make yourself seem more worldly but we forget that these campaigns exist not for those of us who are aware but for those who have never been informed. For all of those mothers who spent days crying because they could not bond with their child. For those kids who were abandoned because no one saw the potential behind their disorder. For everyone who has been made to feel worthless simply because they were not like everyone else.

So do yourself a favour and get involved! Talk about it! Share your experiences and be not afraid to teach others what you have learned…

PS: if you live in Southern Africa join us on twitter at DLYGzimbabwe where we are starting a campaign to talk about mental health instead of just allowing each other to suffer in silence

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