Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Build-A-Bear? Build a Foundation.

“If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children” – Mohandes Ghandi

It has to start somewhere right? Traditionally that has been with the children.

When studies show that nearly half of all autistic teens reporting that they have been the victims of bullying, we have to get the message to kids sooner. Acceptance and tolerance are vital to ending bullying. Those lessons MUST be taught and reinforced at home as well as in the classroom. We must be teaching our kids about the power of love and leading by example EVERY day.

In order to do that, there has to be a dialogue. There has to be an open line of communication. Sometimes that can be a challenge. We don’t always know how to talk to kids on their level and the fear of saying the wrong thing can paralyze us into inaction. What we need is a little confidence and some tools, something to break the ice and open up the give and take required in an important conversation.

That is why I was so impressed and moved by the Build-A-Bear Workshop Autism Speaks Bear and my experience going to purchase a few of the bears today.  First off, let me just say that the place was PACKED. I went to a store that isn’t in a heavily metropolitan area and the bears were FLYING out of the bin. In the store were friends and families of autistic kids. There was a rather large group ahead of me and each kid had a bright blue bear clutched closely. It really got me to thinking about the importance of the partnership and the campaign. It seemed to me that the families in the store were not just building a bear… they were building a foundation of acceptance and love.

I know times are tough, but if you can afford it I would like to encourage you to purchase a bear. Not for your autistic child necessarily (though that is great too) but to give them to children and families that feel could use the enlightenment. The “un-aware” as it were.

Because as I stood there and observed, I realized the significance of these small, fuzzy, blue bears. Each bear purchased was a potential life lesson; A path for a change in the dynamic that many of our school aged kids deal with today. Each bear has the potential to impact its owner with tolerance, understanding and acceptance. They could turn the stares and glares to smiles and the behind the back whispers to “Hello”s. All it takes is a conversation.

Sometimes those vital conversations need a good kick start. They need somebody to give a little push in the right direction. And if you don’t feel like that talk is going to happen with the person or family in question, then have it yourself with them. As you give the Autism Speaks Bear to your friends and family, discuss bullying and autistic kids. Talk about healthcare discrimination against young autistic kids that can’t get scientifically proven and results oriented therapy covered by their insurance. Talk about the lack of resources for autistic young adults trying to live full lives as independently as they are able. Tell them that your kid wants friends. Tell them about all of your kids strengths and discuss his or her challenges. Ask them to see about volunteering in their special ed class at school as a helper. Ask them to be certain to look out for those that are different than them… be it autism or some other disorder, race, religion or socioeconomic standing.

By the way… the thoughts came to me while waiting for a Build-A-Bear and observing the people in the store, but you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get the same results. All you need is the desire and opportunity to teach.

The things you think about while waiting in line.

If you would like to see more pics from today, please go to the gallery on Facebook.

(Full Disclosure: I sit on the Board of Directors of Autism Speaks: Chicagoland Chapter. I was not asked to write this piece nor was I compensated in any way by Autism Speaks or Build-A-Bear. This is just the stuff that rattles in my head.)

If you have not already, please take time to watch my videos, "Fixing" Autism and Autism Awareness with Nichole337 and share them with your friends.

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