Shutdown or speak out? What November 1 means to me.

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Twitter – that wonderful giver of delightful and disastrous news – was where I first read about Communication Shutdown. The web site said:

“It’s a global initiative to raise much-needed funds for autism groups in over 40 countries. By shutting down social networks for one day on November 1, we hope to encourage a greater understanding of people with autism who find social communication a challenge.”

On the face of it, I thought: “Well that’s great…they’re raising money for a good cause!”

But somewhere in the back of my mind, a tiny itch was forming.

It eventually hit me that it was the second sentence I had a problem with. How on earth is avoiding Facebook or Twitter supposed to help understand how people with autism feel when it comes to communication?

I fully understand that currently, social networking is a major factor in communication between people. However, it’s not the end of it. Let’s say I log out of Twitter or Facebook for the entire day. I can text, call or knock on my flatmate’s door and strike up a conversation with her. My not logging on to various social networks has nothing to do with social communication. If anything, it might help wean me off my Twitter addiction (which is an entirely different story!). Say I even manage to stay offline for the day. I’ll be back to tweeting and Facebooking the next day, won’t I? I’ll be smug and self-righteous about how I played a role in Communication Shutdown and now I TRULY understand autism. Not.

My brother has autism and I still don’t understand it fully. Until I moved to UK last year, I dealt with autism on daily basis and I still don’t understand it fully.

How dare anyone think that by giving up Facebook and Twitter for 24 hours, they will understand what it is like to be autistic?

I’ve seen various reactions on the internet that don’t agree with Communication Shutdown. I know where they’re coming from, but I don’t see the point of those either. April is Autism Awareness Month and innumerable events take place then in many countries to raise awareness about autism, much like October is breast cancer awareness month, November (or Movember as it’s called!) is prostate cancer awareness month. Surely these are there to facilitate awareness of the causes. Did we really need another day – that too, a contested day – to show awareness of autism?

You want to raise money for autism, go for it. But don’t tell people they will have a better understanding of social communication problems that autistic people face. For one, not all autistic people communicate the same way: my brother can’t talk. Another child with autism can. If you’ve seen one person with autism, you’ve seen ONE person with autism. This is NOT a one-size-fits-all scenario. And second, many people with autism use the internet to communicate, or use technology to do so (my brother can’t…see why one size doesn’t fit all?) … telling “normal” people to get offline is quite possibly going against how many autistic people communicate.

If you want to understand the problems my brother faces however, get offline, chuck your phone, stop talking to everyone and don’t communicate even by signs. And shut your eyes for good measure.

Then come and tell me you understand a bit more about autism.

For the record, I’m not shutting down. It won’t give me any understanding of what my brother goes through; I’d rather continue with how I always do. Autism is a part of my life. I’d rather stay connected, engage with others and spread whatever awareness I can on a regular basis.

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