By C. Paschal Eze
It is not uncommon for some people to see autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as squarely a challenge and concern for the immediate families of the 1 in 54 American children a recent CDC report says is diagnosed with an ASD. It is their problem, not ours, some would ponder and proffer. But there is no clear indication or guarantee that ASD will not become a part of our immediate or extended family experience in the not-distant future.
Who says we may not in our lifetime have a child, grandchild, niece, nephew or godchild that is autistic and deserves the understanding, patience and support of others?
If there is one thing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it is that socio-economic challenges don’t keep allegiance to water-tight compartments. They tend to affect people not just at the primary level but also at the secondary and tertiary levels, notwithstanding their social standing and geographical location, among others.
We now know that deadly viruses don’t travel with diplomatic passports. Poverty doesn’t just bloom where it is planted. The stench of ignorance hardly gets encased in a slum. Crime doesn’t just fester where it is conceived and christened. Mushrooming happens. Spread occurs. And it doesn’t always follow known and well-researched patterns.
So, it is important for us to care about individuals and families directly affected by ASD in our communities.
Here are some ways we can do that:
Awareness and Advocacy
There is power in conscientious and consistent awareness and advocacy. When we create awareness and speak up strongly for programs and policies that protect and promote the lives of autistic children and their families, we resplendently solidarize with them; we show emotional affinity toward them. The feeling of being thought of in a kind and difference-making way is priceless. It gives one the hope and confidence to persevere.
The other day when I saw a yellow and black “Slow Down Autistic Child In Area” sign in a diverse southeast Michigan city, I needed nobody to tell me it was a product of advocacy. Imagine the good such a sign will do in poor and low autism awareness neighborhoods across this country – if people will dare to passionately advocate on their behalf.
The case of 5-year-old “nonverbal and autistic” Montgomery County Pennsylvania girl Eliza Talal believed to have died after wandering off her home and being swept away by floodwaters of the Tuesday, August 4 Isaias storm speaks loudly of the need to better inform and equip families and neighbors on best practices in protecting autistic children. Investigators said a door may have been left open as contractors worked on the girl’s home. What a terrible loss to her parents and the community!
Fortunate for New York couple Michael and Maria Tennant, their autistic 3-year-old child, Luciano, was only “almost hit by a car” in July 2019 and thus suffered no injury or death when he ran into the street. But their resultant push to bring a relevant street sign to their neighborhood from the Department of Transportation may have been unsuccessful without the strong support of Assemblywoman Monica Wallace and others. There is indeed strength in solidarity.
In all developed and developing societies, good people tend to make a habit of volunteering their energy, time, knowledge and skills in support of noble causes they believe in. Thus, it is strange to find a person of repute anywhere who has never actually volunteered. Which is why serious employers and universities consider volunteerism in their job and admission offers. Volunteers are in tune with the needs of society, and defy excuses to help meet them.
Today, the COVID-19 pandemic may have shelved or drastically reduced in-person volunteering but autism-focused nonprofits like the Autism Alliance of Michigan (Get Involved – Autism Alliance of Michigan), the American Autism Association (Get Involved — American Autism Association) and the National Autism Association (National Autism Association | Providing real help and hope for the autism community since 2003.) are usually in need of skills-based and non-skills-based volunteers.
That means almost everyone can volunteer as soon as the pandemic is over. In some cases, one can even volunteer remotely. Their websites provide helpful information on how to get involved.
The wallet way
Going the wallet way is, as the saying goes, putting our money where our mouth is. And it takes courage and conscience to do that.
Of course, like other solutions-geared nonprofits, credible organizations that plead the worthy causes of autistic children and their families need regular financial support from individuals, families, organizations and governments. Financial resources are needed to run well-designed programs that help autistic children (and their families) succeed. There is no way around it.
Anybody deep-seated in the world of nonprofit leadership will tell you money is like the oxygen of positive change. And in this point-click-and give era, it is so convenient to support that change with tax-deductible donations.
It has been said innumerably that challenges and difficulties don’t resolve themselves. They are resolved by individuals working together with others.
That’s us. That’s humanity.
And recent mass events like recession, pandemics, storms and street protests have reinforced the long-held notion that what affects Helen often affects Harry.
Even people living in the isolated Amazonian tribal village of Rehebe have not been spared by COVID-19 that started far away in China.
So, in many ways, humanity blossoms and bleeds together. We all travel the same bumpy road called life, which is one compelling reason we should all play our individual and collective parts in addressing challenges like autism.
Editor’s Note: C. Paschal Eze is the Chairman of the board of The PuLSE Institute. A humanitarian disaster expert and community engagement development consultant, he is a communication executive in the nonprofit industry. For submission inquiries contact the Institute’s editor-in-chief Bankole Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org.