Will we ever reach acceptance?

Mental health. It’s something I’ve talked about on this blog on multiple occasions. It’s also a topic that is very near and dear to my heart.

In the last week we lost two icons – Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain – to suicide. Should it take celebrity deaths to get a conversation started about mental health? No. But am I thankful it does? Absolutely. The most infuriating part, though, is that with each passing day, the thought gets pushed further and further into the back of the heads of many people. Other things become more important. And mental health? Suddenly it’s on the back burner again.

The understanding and acceptance of mental health issues is important beyond measure. Why do we hear when those around us have cancer, lupus, or transplants? Why do we hear of heart disease, neurological disorders, or disabilities? But mental health – suddenly the conversation stops. Society has taught us that it isn’t acceptable to talk about the chemicals and the hormones our minds produce and how they’re controlled. Would we judge someone with the above diseases or disorders? No. But we judge those with mental illness, sometimes without even knowing it. Those times you told someone with depression to “just try to be happy” or those times you told someone with anxiety to “get over it” – you’re not helping. Often times, you’re creating a bigger problem.

Mental health issues do not discriminate. You can have it all – money, fame, success – none of it matters when you’re sick or suffering. Those living the “perfect life” could actually be living a life much different than that. Having everything isn’t everything. Having everything is obsolete when you’re sick. Nobody deserves to suffer. Everybody deserves help.

You do not know another’s pain or the burden they carry. This is the honest to God truth. Should celebrity deaths make us advocate for mental health and suicide prevention? Absolutely. But what about those in the world around you – those close to you – that may need help? Have you checked on your friends? Your family? Your coworkers? It can be as simple as a hello, or even asking someone how they are doing. Reaching out a helping hand. Including them in your daily life. In the deepest depths of darkness, those who need help don’t often realize it until those close to them speak up. You have the power to be the change.

Until the stigma is removed from mental illness and our society begins to accept it, those suffering with mental health issues will continue to hide. Until you respond with kindness, love, and compassion, people with mental health issues will continue to bottle everything up. Start the conversation. Spread kindness. Radiate love.

It won’t happen overnight, but it’s a start.

To anyone reading this – you are noticed. The world would not be the same without you in it.

xoxo.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Acceptance

Today, April 2nd, is not only the second day of Autism Awareness Month, but is World Autism Awareness Day!

World Autism Awareness Day is celebrated annually on April 2nd, encouraging nations to take measures to raise acceptance about people with autism around the world. April 2nd is also a day to campaign “Light it Up Blue” – honoring people with autism by lighting up thousands of buildings and monuments the color blue. Awareness is also spread by wearing the color blue to start a conversation towards helping individuals with autism.

Autism refers to a range of conditions characterized by deficits or challenges in social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, and unique strengths and differences. The most obvious signs appear between ages 2 and 3, but in some cases, autism can be diagnosed as early as 18 months of age. Autism is considered a spectrum disorder in that it reflects the vast variation in strengths and challenges that these individuals possess, hence the significance of the puzzle piece “logo” – no two individuals with autism are alike.

Autism effects 1 in 68 children in the United States. This includes 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls. Around one third of individuals with autism remain nonverbal, and one third of individuals with autism also have an intellectual disability. Medical and mental health issues that are often accompanied by an autism diagnosis are gastrointestinal disorders, seizures, sleep disturbances, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and phobias.

I could bore you with the facts all day. But, essentially, it isn’t the facts that matter –  its the acceptance. I have the privilege and the blessing to work in a school for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, so this month and this day have a high significance for me. There are many sides to autism – hence the spectrum – that you don’t always see in the mainstream media. More often than not, you see the kiddos with autism that are higher functioning – they have a special talent, or academic understanding way beyond their peers. Heck, sometimes way beyond me! While these kiddos are remarkable, they are at one end of the spectrum. The other end, that’s the one we don’t always talk about. That’s the end we don’t always accept

I don’t work in a school with those kids you see on television. The children I work with are at the other end – the end where they are nonverbal; the end where they’re in their double digits and aren’t potty trained; the end where they can’t feed themselves or even take care of basic hygiene needs on their own. I experience the end where aggressive meltdowns are had over a microscopic change in daily routine, biting happens out of excitement, disrobing happens more times than not, and uncontrollable laughter is heard during lockdown drills. These are the children that oftentimes don’t get a chance. These are the children that you see on an iPad at a restaurant, having a meltdown in the middle of the grocery store, or “running wild” at birthday parties. These are the children that are often blamed as being the result of bad parenting. These are the children that aren’t accepted.

When I tell people what I do, I am often met with some response revolving around how I must be a special person, or how I am changing the lives of these kids. While I appreciate the comments, essentially, it goes way deeper than that. I’m not the ones changing the lives’ of these kids – they’re changing mine. I assume that you are now thinking, *What? How is that even possible?* Well, let me tell you. It is. Without these kiddos, I would not understand the true meaning of patience, understanding, or unconditional love. In one short year, they have changed me into what I believe is a more well-rounded, patient individual. My job is hard. There are days that I leave and sit in my car replaying my day, picturing everything that went wrong, wondering why I am even doing what I do. But then, the next day comes, it’s a clean slate. That next day, you have the pleasure of working with a child and they score 100% on following 2-step directions for the first time, or have a party for a child who has kept dry pants all day, or hear a child successfully say his own name. Heck, even telling a mom her child pooped in school for the first time ever in his school career – these are the moments that matter.

Acceptance begins when you stop believing that every kid you see crying in the store is a brat. Acceptance begins when you understand that not every kiddo has the ability to express when they are feeling sick, or hungry, or need to use the bathroom. Acceptance begins when you have patience and understanding of the world around you. Acceptance begins when you become aware that not everything is as it seems.

On April 28th, I will be participating in my school’s annual Autism Walk. If you would like to support this school and my students, the donation link to my page is here.

xoxo.