Autistic child area signs

Cris Italia

Have you seen this? I’m not really sure what this means, and I’ve asked parents of children with autism to explain. “Verbal cues,” I was told. The last time I checked, a motorist driving through a neighborhood isn’t stopping and asking kids for directions.

Growing up in Brooklyn in a high traffic area, the most we’d hear from a motorist was yelling to a group of us to turn the Johnny pump off so that his/her car wouldn’t get wet.

The other answer I received was: “Kids with autism have a tendency to dart out onto the street.” So do kids who don’t listen or children going after a ball that just rolled to the other side of the street. Certainly we haven’t seen signs that say “Ignorant Child Who Doesn’t Listen Area” or “My Kid Likes to Run and Frolic Through the Street Area.”

So what’s the big deal? Why do I care about a sign? It certainly doesn’t affect me. I’m going to be driving carefully through residential streets anyway. Here’s why it bothers me: It sends the wrong message about autism. Amazingly there are still people who are ignorant about what autism is and what a child with autism is like. When they read a sign that says “Autistic Child Area” they’ll think to themselves a child who is helpless and at a complete disadvantage compared to other kids who can hear a car horn or see a car coming.

A person with no idea about what autism is drives past that sign and compares it to the signs they have seen like: “Deaf Child Area” or “Blind Child Area.” How do I know this? Recently I was talking to someone who had no idea what I did for a living and after revealing that I was an editor for a magazine about autism, this person asked: “Do kids with autism have vision issues?” Where would they get that idea? Oh that’s right: the sign they saw on the way to their friend’s home.

You might argue: At least the person who saw that sign was able to ask someone else what autism was. Okay, so it’s a minor tool for awareness. But isn’t Autism Speaks already taking care of that with billboards and commercials everywhere?

Here’s my other problem with it. These signs going up in neighborhoods all across America are a way for local elected officials to get votes. They figure, “I’m not going to bat for the community I represent on the hard issues, but at least I can get them a sign and everyone’s happy.” A politician will cut funding for special education programs one week and show up on Nowhere Street in Anytown, U.S.A., the next week for a ribbon cutting to present this glorious new sign. Everyone smiles, takes a picture together and gets a caption in a local newspaper. Someone will think, “Wow so and so really is doing a lot for the autism community.”

All it really says is, “Congratulations, you are the new benefactors of a sign.”

Courtesy of Spectrum Publications

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