Today is a big day for the autism community. It is the day of the global communication shutdown, in support of individuals who spend their lives on the autism spectrum. Those participating in the shutdown are voluntarily doing without Facebook and Twitter for a day. The idea behind this is for us to experience for one day what our loved ones with autism go through as part of their daily lives – the frustration and feeling of lostness that comes with not being able to communicate.
For all intents and purposes, Facebook and Twitter do not exist for me today. The only thing that will be posted under my name to my Facebook wall will be the auto-publish of this post. If anyone tags me in comments or pictures today, I will not know it. If anyone messages me – either privately or to my wall – they will have to wait until tomorrow for a response. I will not find out until tomorrow morning whether anyone helped me win Fast Money in the Facebook Family Feud app. I have not gotten to see anyone’s Halloween pictures, I don’t know how my Scottish friend’s job interview went, I don’t know what anyone’s up to today. Much of what happens today I will probably never know about, because by the time I get back onto Facebook tomorrow, it will be old news. Same with Twitter. If anyone is waiting on the edge of their seats for tweets from me, they’d better settle in for the long haul.
It’s an interesting experience, partly just because of the habit of it. Giving up Facebook for a day is a bit like giving up smoking for a day (actually, there’s an idea: a global non-smoking day in support of those affected by cancer). I remember what it was like when I gave up smoking fourteen years ago. One of the hardest aspects of it was simply breaking the habit of physically picking up and lighting a cigarette after a meal, or as an accompaniment to my morning coffee. Similarly, it is now my custom in the mornings to pour myself a coffee and drink it while first reading emails, and then seeing what’s going on in Facebook Land. I almost clicked the Facebook icon today just because it’s what I always do.
So what I am I learning from this experience? Do I feel a better sense of understanding for what my son lives with?
To be honest, probably not. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I do feel the frustration of non-communication. I do feel that I am cut off from a part of my life that I have grown to be dependant on, and in a sense, I am feeling a sense of what it is like for George. But I am mindful of the fact that I am doing this by choice. I know that it is a one-day thing, and that tomorrow I will be able to catch up on much of what I am missing today.
George lives with his social communication difficulties day in and day out. He has not chosen to separate himself from the world. He cannot make the choice to wake up tomorrow and be fully verbal and socially conversant. Tomorrow, when I return to the world of social media, George will still have autism.
I am still glad that I and thousands of other people have done this. Maybe, in some small way, this global effort will make the world a better place for George and people like him. Maybe the people who have chosen to be a part of this shutdown will, in the future, be a little more tolerant of children they see having meltdowns in public. Maybe someone will give a job to someone with autism. Maybe a politician, somewhere in the world, will vote in favour of a bill to help special needs individuals. If a child has trouble getting a point across in a classroom, maybe the teacher will recognize the possibility of autism instead of dismissing the child as “stupid”. Maybe a doctor will finally listen to a mom who has been begging for an evaluation referral for her child. Maybe this shutdown will lead to a lot of little good deeds that will have a ripple effect throughout the world.
Today will not enable me to know what it is like to be autistic. But it does give me hope for a future in which people with autism are recognized as valuable, integral parts of the fabric of human society.