Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Don't Shoot the Messenger!

We’ve all heard the expression don’t shoot the messenger. Than why do we keep doing it? The facts won’t change simply because we don’t like them or the person delivering them. How can we expect to make a difference when we shout down those who speak up or simply ignore those with the courage to ask for help? Autism is a Spectrum Disorder it would be naive to believe that any one individual or organization could honestly represent the entire Autism Spectrum no matter how rich or famous they maybe. That is the reality of the Autism Cause. The needs of a Spectrum Disorder undoubtedly require a spectrum of solutions.

If Government, Celebrities and Big Box Charities were able to do the job alone they’d be doing it. Everyone likes to be recognized for making a difference. The increasing prevalence combined with the lack of expertise and supports is overwhelming limited resources. In spite of the efforts of Government, Celebrities and Big Charities the front lines of Autism have come to every neighborhood around the globe. A growing number of community-based organizations and parent driven groups are emerging to help fill the expanding gaps in assistance for our most vulnerable. Maybe it’s time we listened to what they have to say. These are the stories the media doesn’t cover. The stories of real people not celebrities who live with autism and those local organizations that are doing the work in the trenches aren’t made for TV. Regardless of your individual perspective one thing is for certain the Autism Cause Needs every voice to be heard, all hands on deck and all the support it get.

After attending dozens of government hearings and meetings with community-based organizations one thing is clear. Nobody cares more about their families and their cause than the families living with a loved one with Autism. They are immersed in the Autism cause, because they live with Autism every minute of every day. Autism takes no days off, no holidays or vacations. They face the economics, isolation, hopelessness and frustrations of Autism daily, but still find the strength to stand up and be a voice for their loved one, others and the cause. These people are the real heroes and the true celebrities of the Autism cause. They are doing what’s right even when it is not in style, popular or even understood by the general public. Would you have the courage to do the same? What if it cost you your job, your home, your health care, your marriage or your hope? This is one of the most difficult things to ask anyone to do.

9 times out of 10 the messengers for Autism are parents, family members and others bearing burdens few can ever understand, except those walking in the same shoes. Often they are poor, tired, hungry, frustrated, isolated and emotional as a result of the struggles they endure day in and day out. Celebrities, Corporations and Big Box Charities do not have a monopoly on opinions and good ideas…only money and media attention. And they certainly do not represent everyone on the spectrum, but they do have the abilities to be heard when families and individuals are ignored.

Many in our society choose to judge their neighbors with Autism instead on hearing their pleas for help…I’ve heard people say "I got problems too", or "they are just angry", or "they must be bad parents", even "I don’t help miserable people" and worse things I will not repeat here. People choose not to recognize what the true faces of suffering and lost hope look like…even when they stand right in front of them. Awareness is only the first step, but awareness that fails to inspire action changes nothing. Shooting the messenger doesn’t mean the message or the facts will change or problem will somehow go away…just the person delivering them will.

Autism Awareness Month is the perfect time to put differences aside and focus on all we have in common. Perhaps we should call it Autism Action Month? We must rededicate ourselves to a higher level of communication and cooperation by letting our stories be told and getting things accomplished, and not just reciting statistics and shining blue lights. Raise our combined voices in a powerful chorus that the world can no longer ignore, instead of being heard as the individual voices of a bickering constituency. The nature of a Spectrum Disorder defies the possibilities of any one size fits all solutions, any one voice or organization accurately representing everyone on the Spectrum. Our society needs to gain a better understanding of the diverse nature of the impacts and effects of Autism. During Autism Awareness Month all the voices of Autism and their calls to action need and deserve the opportunity to be heard, without us shooting the messenger.

Winston Churchill said “Courage is knowing when to stand up and speak; courage is also knowing when to sit down and listen.” When the messenger has the courage to stand up and be heard for Autism, the world would be better served to focus on listening to the message instead of focusing on how it is delivered or who is delivering it. Courage could be redefined as the willingness of the messenger to deliver the message knowing all the while what you and I already know…they always shoot the messenger. Churchill was right it takes courage to sit down and listen...Next time Please Don’t shoot the messenger.

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