Communication Shutdown Day: Does silence promote awareness?

Some autism activists are calling for a social media shutdown to raise awareness. Others say the idea just silences the already quiet.

SILVER SPRING, Md. (10/31/10) — November 1st has been designated by some as “Communication Shutdown Day.” Initiated by an Australian early-intervention organization that serves children with autism, the idea is that the autism community will not use Twitter, Facebook, or other social media that day to call attention to the communication difficulties that individuals with autism have.

Many people with autism, as well as parents of children with autism, have questioned this method. Some adults with autism have chosen to call November 1st “Autistics Speaking Day.” The blogger behind Autistics Speaking Day writes, “Twitter and Facebook are two of the sites that actually allow autistics to communicate and connect with others in the community, so I will not be disappearing from the internet, as it is my lifeline.”

Blogger and mother of two children with autism, Sunday Stilwell has chosen to not participate, and instead will engage in social media with abandon on November 1st. “I am choosing to take the complete opposite approach to raising autism awareness by raising that which makes me strongest—my words, my heart, and my voice!” she writes.

She originally posted her eloquent argument for not participating in Communication Shutdown Day on her blog, Adventures in Extreme Parenthood, on October 15. She has graciously allowed me to reprint it here.

*****

On November 1st thousands of people across the world are donating money and pledging a communication shutdown of their social media accounts to bring attention to the autism community.

Call me crazy, but how is not speaking going to speak for the millions affected by autism who can’t?

In my opinion it won’t.

Do you want to know what will happen when every caretaker, parent, sister, brother, therapist, teacher, non-profit, doctor and friend of an individual living with autism steps away from their respective Twitter, Facebook and blog accounts on November 1st to “show the world what it’s like” for those who struggle with social communication?

The world will keep on spinning, Twitter will keep tweeting, Facebook will keep posting, and millions of families raising individuals with autism will continue to advocate for their children, change their diapers, avoid restaurants and stores due to the stares and whispers of onlookers, and they will end the day thankful they made it through without a major meltdown or an elopement.

What will not happen is the millions still tweeting, facebooking and blogging will not notice their loss.  They will not call up their local autism non-profit and make a donation, volunteer to help, or ask questions.  They will do what they have always done.

Ignore those who are silent and go on about their lives.

This is why when the autism community goes radio silence on November 1st, I will still be tweeting, facebooking and blogging about what autism really is and what it is not.  I will educate with my words, and not my silence.  I will change my boys’ diapers, order in for dinner because going out is not possible, and I will be a voice for my sons until the day comes when they use their own.

Because that day may never come.

I urge my family, friends and anyone who is not raising a child with autism or another special need to do something concrete on November 1st to make a difference in the life of a family struggling under the weight of parenting children like mine.

• Offer to watch their kids for a few hours so the mom and dad can go out to dinner in a real restaurant and enjoy a meal that didn’t come to their door in a paper sack.

• Ask them to name an item they have needed for their family but have not been able to afford to buy themselves.  Then do the right thing and buy it!

• Instead of making a donation to an autism non-profit in their name, consider writing that check to the family directly.  I assure you they need it and will be grateful!

• Go to their house and mow the lawn, shovel the walk or rake the leaves.  These outside chores are often left undone because of the demanding job going on inside the house.

Each of us has the power to use our words, our actions and our lives to make a difference for those living with and caring for those with autism.

Because I know all too well that on November 1st, autism will not be silent—and neither will I.

Read more about Sunday and her children at her blog, Adventures in Extreme Parenthood. Follow her on Twitter at @xtremeparnthood. She has a lot to say.

You can find Jean at her own personal blog, Stimeyland. She runs an autism events website for Montgomery County, Maryland at AutMont. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey—even on November 1.


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Jean Winegardner

When Jean had her first child in 2001, "autism" was about the scariest word she could think of. Six years later when her second child was diagnosed with PDD-NOS, a form of autism, she was just happy to have a word to help him get the services he needed. Her autism journey has been full of tears, laughter, love and at least one attorney.

Jean blogs about her life with her autistic son, Jack, on her blog, Stimeyland. Her two neurotypical children, Sam and Quinn (one older, one younger than Jack), make frequent appearances there as well. Also at Stimeyland? Jean's quirky sense of humor.

She also runs AutMont, an events calendar listing autism-related events in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Raising a child with special needs is hard for so many reasons, but after living with Jack, Jean wouldn't trade him for anything in the world. Come along with Jean as she experiences the joys that come with parenting a special kid.

You can email Jean anytime at stimeyland at gmail dot com or follow her on Twitter, where, as "Stimey," she offers her world view in snippets of 140 characters or less.

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