With the meteoric rise of social media Web sites such as Facebook and
Twitter, many individuals and groups now have the opportunity to reach large
numbers of people to promote awareness, advocacy and attention for their causes.
Such is the case with autism, where a dramatic spike in prevalence over the last
10 years has prompted many people to the take to the Internet to help, support
and encourage others through the popular online social networks.
Stuart Duncan is the father of a five-year-old child with autism and one such example of how Twitter can be effectively used for advocacy efforts. Operating under the handle @autismfather, Duncan has amassed nearly 2,000 followers in the last year and has since been interviewed by CNN and recently helped raise thousands of dollars when Samsung offered $5 for every tweet that contained the hashtag #TeamAutism.
Duncan has a loyal online following and is currently planning to use Twitter and other Web sites as ways to implement an "upgrade" to Autism Awareness Day this coming April 2nd.
"My goals are quite lofty," he said. "The world is already aware of autism, but doesn’t truly know what it is. We feel the message of awareness is not enough, so the plan is to implement something known as Autism Understanding and Acceptance."
Duncan says there are already twenty charities and companies on board to help support the cause, with more to follow.
Duncan’s story is just one example that shows how the Internet has leveled the playing field for normal, everyday people. In year’s past, awareness efforts were typically reserved for the large multi-million dollar organizations such as the American Red Cross or the Muscular Dystrophy Association, requiring lengthy telethons and big budgets to raise funding and awareness. However, the Internet, via Facebook and Twitter, has completely changed the landscape of how people are reaching out to others.
Zoey Roberts is a British Columbia resident on the autism spectrum who has taken to Facebook over the last 3 years to promote autism awareness and also give others insight into her Asperger’s Syndrome. With social situations a challenge, Roberts is able to use Facebook as a tool to connect with others to both receive and offer support.
Roberts has over 3,000 friends (Facebook.com/AutismRights) and runs multiple
Facebook groups that allow her to share her experiences and unique perspectives.
"Through my online advocacy, I’m able to accomplish not only autism awareness, but also give others the opportunity to see things from the point of view from someone on the autism spectrum," said Roberts. "Using Facebook, my goal is to eventually create autism awareness, peace, unity and hopefully acceptance as well."
With more than 500 million active users on Facebook and over 200 million Twitter users, social media has become the vehicle of choice to promote causes and awareness. As recent events in Egypt and the Middle East have demonstrated, a voice that was once drowned out can now be heard loud and clear through the use of these types of sites.
And with autism rates continuing to climb at exponential levels, we can expect to see many more emerging voices on behalf of autism in the near future.