Just have your kid invite my kid to sit with them for lunch.

The reality of “Light it Up Blue Autism Awareness Day”

Last year on April 2nd 2021, I asked my son if he wanted to wear something blue for “Light it Up Blue” Autism Awareness Day. He said, “Sure. I’ll wear blue.”

So, driving to school next to this blue-eyed boy in his blue shirt, I asked him if he knew anyone with Autism. His response, “I had it once.” I just said cool with a smile on my face and in my heart.

I fought hard to keep my son from being labeled and I loved that he didn’t see anything about himself as a limitation. And because I believe words are powerful, the school went along with me. I don’t know if it is right or wrong. We are all doing our best.

So, on this day, March 17th, 2022, I already feel the April 2nd date looming. Everyone is busy finding a green shirt for St. Patrick’s Day and soon everyone will be looking for something blue on April 2nd. For what? To celebrate? To bring awareness? I’ve already had multiple conversations in my head, for weeks, and here is where I’ve landed. My son is in his first year of High School. A school with over 2,800 students, where he walks to and fro responsibly. A school he largely navigated on his own after 2 years of Covid restrictions and zoom school. He navigated the first 45 days without an aid. He is so brave. And on this looming date, I don’t give a shit if your kid wears blue on April 2nd. Just invite my kid to sit with your kid at lunch.

When the school year started, there was an “incident” at lunch. In the sea of students with cell phones and video cameras, there was a “charming” group of girls that saw my son behaving a little odd. He was outside and alone, anxious to see if anyone would accept him into their group. The anxiety caused the stimming. The stimming is a result of anxiety. The anxiety is from being isolated at lunch.The isolation at lunch is from the odd behavior. I don’t know what exactly comes first anymore. The charming girls decided it would be a grand idea to film my son.Thanks to an Angel Teacher in the right place at the right time, we dodged a video for all to view,comment, share and shame.

So, we had to get an aid for my son to protect him. My son was indignant that he didn’t need help. He is smart and mostly responsible. But we had to choose safety over social acceptance. To this date, there are times my son ditches the aid, because he understands the repercussions of what that means socially. So here we are.

For months, my son found solace in his case manager’s class room at lunchtime. The teacher played music and created a safe space for anyone that wanted to hide out and eat. Even some of the teacher aides would hide out in there and “chill.” But in a recent review with his team of teachers, a decision was made to “encourage” my son to go outside for lunch and socialize.

They thought it was becoming a crutch. He often bounces from group to group with his anxiety rising at every step and there are days that he doesn’t even eat at all. There is no one waving him over to sit with them. There is no one saving him a seat.

But for my son, his biggest challenge is anxiety. Therefore, the isolation in a sea of thousands of kids, creates more anxiety, which in turn creates some behavior that may seem odd. And, so it goes. If you have met one person with Autism, you have met only one person with Autism. That needs to be made clear.

So, I think we’re way past awareness and blue shirts. We need action and inclusiveness. I’m truly grateful for the middle school and high school that truly does walk the walk. I cannot begin to articulate how many people on his team and in the community work tirelessly to support us. I want to express that when I’m wildly rich, the first thing I want to do is purchase outlandishly wonderful gifts for all these amazing teachers and staff to express my gratitude and love. But we can’t put this heavy burden only on them. We have to do more as a society, as neighbors and as friends. As humans, we can’t pretend it’s nearly enough to don a blue shirt every April 2nd. In fact, please don’t. Just ask your kid to ask my kid to sit near them at lunch.

Written by Anna I. from Southern California