wear the change

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A couple of weeks ago, Katie came to me with a question. “Mama,” she asked, “now that we don’t feel like we can support Autism Speaks anymore, what can I wear to school for Autism Awareness Day?”

While I know the question of what to wear may seem silly to some, we take our autistic pride pretty seriously around these parts, and Katie has always embraced the opportunity to honor and celebrate her sister by wearing something special on Autism Awareness Day. She has, with Brooke’s endorsement, spoken to her classmates about autism ever since she was in third grade. And a big part of it, for her, is finding a physically visible manifestation of both her pride in her sister and her plea for understanding and support of those on the spectrum. “Lighting it up blue” – whether it be the house, our cars, or ourselves, was our way to start conversations.

We still want to start those conversations, we just want to make sure to do it in a way that isn’t hurtful to our autistic friends. And so we searched for another way.

I talk a lot about my frustration with what I call Cocktail Party Awareness. The most prevalent kind of awareness out there, it is far more a validation that marketing works than an assurance that anyone is actually trying to help autistic people to live a better life. Associating puzzle pieces with autism doesn’t help my child. Recognizing autism so that you can actually help to accommodate autistic people does. Being able to rattle off the latest CDC prevalence rates doesn’t make the world safer for my daughter. Understanding that her challenges don’t diminish her worth as a human being does. Lighting a building blue may tell us all that autism exists, but it doesn’t help us understand what it is or how we can help to support those who live life through its lens. It’s the conversations that matter.

So, if we’re not comfortable starting them in a way that we’ve been told time and again is offensive to so many of our own, then how? Or, to put it another way,

“Mama, now that we can’t support Autism Speaks anymore, what can I wear to school for Autism Awareness Day?”

When I asked some friends for guidance, they suggested this fabulous t-shirt by Think Geek:

 Screen shot 2014-03-27 at 7.59.39 PM

{Image is a photo of Think Geek’s Neurodiversity t-shirt – a picture of a brain made to look like the earth with the word “Neurodiversity” beneath it. Click on the image to order}

I love the idea of the t-shirt, and highly encourage you to buy one, especially since they’re donating the proceeds of sales through April to ASAN, but the truth is, it just wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

So I looked a little more. And I still didn’t find what I wanted. So I got to work, and …. (drum roll, please … )

I am thrilled to unveil Diary’s Wearable Conversation Starters. The collection is starting small, with just five t-shirts for now, but I anticipate new additions throughout April as, no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to get my brain to stop coming up with more ideas.

Here’s the little marketing spiel that I wrote for the Zazzle store ..

April is Autism Awareness month, but being truly aware takes a lot more than knowing the latest statistics. Let’s start a conversation. One at a time, we’ll change the world. Don’t forget to customize your shirt – blue, gold, or anything in between. Be you. Be proud.Wear the change you wish to see in the world.

Kinda catchy, no? Anyway, without further adieu, and in no particular order, here they are …

Capture

{Image is a photo of a white t-shirt on which are printed the following words:  “Autism, Awareness, Acceptance, Support, Love.” It’s shown in women’s basic white, but any of the items can be customized – Zazzle offers over 100 different styles and colors from infant onesies to men’s XXL t-shirts to adorable, American made hoodies. Click on the image to order as is or make it your own!}

Capture1

Image is a photo of a white t-shirt on which is printed, “Nonspeaking does not mean having nothing to say. Question what you think you know about autism.” It’s shown in women’s basic white, but any of the items can be customized – Zazzle offers over 100 different styles and colors from infant onesies to men’s XXL t-shirts to adorable, American made hoodies. Click on the image to order as is or make it your own!}

Capture3

Image is a photo of a white t-shirt on which is printed, “Respect the stim. Celebrate neurodiversity.” It’s shown in women’s basic white, but any of the items can be customized – Zazzle offers over 100 different styles and colors from infant onesies to men’s XXL t-shirts to adorable, American made hoodies. Click on the image to order as is or make it your own!}

Capture4

 Image is a photo of a white t-shirt on which is printed, “Autism is one word but there is no one autism.” It’s shown in basic white, but any of the items can be customized – Zazzle offers over 100 different styles and colors from infant onesies to men’s XXL t-shirts to adorable, American made hoodies. Click on the image to order as is or make it your own!}

Capture5

 Image is a photo of a white t-shirt on which is printed, “Let’s talk about autism.” It’s shown in women’s basic white, but any of the items can be customized – Zazzle offers over 100 different styles and colors from infant onesies to men’s XXL t-shirts to adorable, American made hoodies. Click on the image to order as is or make it your own!}

And there you have it, friends. The Diary solution to what to wear in April. Because it’s never been about colors or puzzle pieces or brightly colored bulbs anyway. It is and always was about people. And the only way we’re going to change anything, really truly change anything, is one heart at a time. Grab a t-shirt (or a sweatshirt or a hoodie or whatever makes you happy) and let’s go start some conversations.

Beginning today and throughout the month of April, a portion of all net proceeds will be split evenly between the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the Doug Flutie Foundation, and Miss Alysia’s Playhouse, better known as SenseAbility Gym. Thank you and happy shopping!

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32 thoughts on “wear the change

  1. The first one is very similar to one done by my son’s autism program.. It is red with a heart shaped by puzzle pieces and the words “accept understand love” underneath with Autism Awareness under that.. We love them!! It was perfect for Valentine’s day.. but heck, for everyday! I would send a pic but i’m not exactly tech savvy and couldn’t get it up here. My son and I sport our matching shirts proudly :)

  2. b.r.i.l.l.i.a.n.t. – I especially like “respect the stim.” Well heck, I especially like the creator! Well done.

  3. Jess, the last few springs I’ve been looking for merchandise like this for Autism Awareness month, and there hasn’t been anything out there that spoke to me like the commentary on your shirts. Good for you for filling a void and having the gumption to follow through. Personally loving “nonspeaking does not mean having nothing to say” as I think of Justin. I’ll be adding one of these to my wardrobe!

  4. Great idea, Jess. Any chance of t-shirts in children’s sizes? Can you put these sayings on a pin, hat, or something other than a t-shirt? (I can’t wear the shirt to work, but I can put a pin on my bag and have it all the time). Thanks and good luck.

  5. I love these! Unfortunately the shipping is nearly $30 plus duty/taxes to Canada. I have an idea and would like to ask you if it’s ok… not sure best way to directly contact you…

  6. Reblogged this on Adventures of Team W and commented:
    April 2. Every year I dread that day. It’s Autism Awareness Day. Media always makes a big deal of it, running specials and documentaries, and several people will tag me in a post or send me an article that they hadn’t seen before, wondering if I’ve ever noticed it.

    And recently my kids had an Autism Awareness Day at their school. Did it change anything? After talking to them the answer is a resounding “NO”.

    It’s no longer about awareness, it’s all about ACCEPTANCE and INCLUSION.

    I have been struggling to find the right words for my post, but honestly Jess from A Diary of a Mom is just so much more eloquent than I am when it comes to this stuff.

    And my very favorite t-shirt that she designed can be found here: http://www.zazzle.com/autism_acceptance_t_shirt-235210999704578790

    Thanks Jess for de-tangling the words for me!

  7. I wanted to reach out to you and let you know that I love following you on facebook and these shirts are SO awesome, I plan on purchasing one or more asap. I am a high school teacher in MA that was hired last year to start an autism program within the walls of a public high school. It’s a district wide program that has been going on for many years and I am feel nothing less than blessed to be the one that gets to extend this program onto the high school years of these students. I love my job. Some days more than others, but I am truly blessed to be able to say that my job is my passion.

    The reason I am reaching out is not only to tell you that your words have been inspirational and helpful, but to also let you know of an opportunity that I get to be apart of this month. My school has one of the top student run TV programs in the state and I asked them to do a “spotlight” episode on our ASD program to showcase my students and how well they having been doing in their new school and program. They have done an autism awareness episode in the past, however when I watched it I felt like even though they got some facts accurate, the entire episode had shed such negative light on what autism actually is. I am so happy that I have the opportunity to turn it around and really spotlight my individual students and how awesome they are as people first. I want to spread the word that it is awareness and understanding lead to acceptance and love. Not tolerance. This episode will be watched by the 1300 students in my school along with the 150+ staff members. I want the message that I send to reach them and stick with them. I have high hopes to make this program a model program in the state, and with people’s support and understanding, I know we can do it.

    Thanks again for your ongoing inspirational messages. Your positivity reaches more people than you know. If there is anything that anyone wants to share that can help me with this message, I would love to hear it and appreciate any positive feedback.

    Thank you :)

  8. Pingback: Aware? Yup…educated? Not hardly | Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

  9. Thank you for these Âûsome shirts. I have just bought the non-speaking one. I ordered blue by accident and then I realised how powerful it is to have a blue shirt with that message on it.
    I found it hard to decide which colour as the darker colours did not show up the text on-screen, unfortunately. That’s ok. Blue is powerful with the non-speaking message on it.
    I am autistic and speak most of the time. I do have times where I can’t speak and feel so vulnerable. I wear this shirt to help others think outside the stereotype of autism that is portrayed by the media.

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