I have been somewhat criticized for making myself and my child a
"walking billboard" for autism. I have listened to and given much thought
on this matter, keeping my child’s privacy in mind. However, my most recent research into the difficulties presented
for emergency workers, thanks largely to a number of authors who have written much on this subject,
has reassured me that I am in fact, doing the right thing.
Should something happen in your home such as a fire, emergency crews will arrive and they’ll need to have as much information as possible about your child. Any child will be scared in such an instance, but think about how your autistic child will feel when "alien" looking creatures show up with axes and breathing masks — they will most likely hide and stay hidden. They may not, or very likely, CANNOT cry out for help. They will most likely not respond when they are called out to. As a result, the emergency workers will need any information they can get.
IF and when they have rescued your child, first responders must also know that your child needs unique treatment. This is a two-way street. Your child needs to be prepared and the teams of people helping in your community need to be prepared as well.
Regardless of what the emergency may be, whether it includes emergency workers or retail employees, information about your child’s special needs is in the best interest of you and your child.
Personally, I will be contacting the city to see what it would take to have a street sign with "Child With Autism" placed in front of my apartment. This will guarantee that whether an emergency team responds to an injury, a wandering incident, a burglary or any other situation, they will be prepared to respect and assist my child in whatever the case may be. It may also help your neighbors to understand the screams that accompany your child’s typical meltdowns, which may otherwise be misinterpreted.
My child wears t-shirts with autism slogans, my purse has puzzle pieces on it and I am having our sneakers painted with autism slogans and cause ribbons. I just ordered 2 yards of the autism puzzle piece fabric and will be thinking of other ways to decorate ourselves.
When we recently moved into our new neighborhood, I walked up and down my street and told everyone about our journey. My child is four and will tell you himself that he has autism. He may not know what that means, but upon hearing his declaration, those in the community will know that he is special.
Labeling your child is essential for social, medical and educational resources, as well as emergency response teams and overall community awareness. Telling the world your child has autism is also one of the first steps in coming out of denial. You need to both learn and prepare for what your child’s best interests really are.
Perhaps it’s pride, shame or our own idea of "protecting" when we fail to notify others about our child. The age-old stigma that was placed on those with special needs cannot be broken if we don’t all bring this out into the light. The current numbers of autistic persons that are known are just the tip of the iceberg due to those undiagnosed and those in hiding. Coming forward is a necessary element to place autism at the global forefront where it belongs.
Emergency response teams have difficult jobs. Don’t make their work harder, or even impossible, because you are afraid or have justified guarding your autism "secret." Above all, don’t wait until it is too late.
It’s not just your child that needs help coming out of the darkness — it is you as well.
Turn the lights on in the scary closet to reveal that there are no monsters, then proudly tell the world, “My child is unique, isn’t yours?”