Dear Mr. President and First Lady Michelle Obama,
Every year, the same day comes. Crunch! go the crisp leaves under your feet, twirling around in the cool, late autumn breeze, before coming to land on the earth below. Children race from house to house, their sneaker-covered feet thumping across the pavement, waiting for the door to open, to see the face of whoever lives there, voices ringing out in a choir of “Trick or treat!” when the moment finally arrives.
I am, of course, talking about Halloween: the time of ghosts, goblins, bobbing apples, and mini-sized candies filling up plastic buckets across the nation. And with the spirit of frivolity and mischievous fun also comes words of caution, issued forth by parents far and wide. From elementary school onward, every kid knew the most important Halloween rule of all: Never go to a house that doesn’t have any lights on.
A light is a symbol of welcome. Come, the light says. This is a safe place. For centuries, a lantern hanging outside of a building meant hospitality, and a darkened establishment meant emptiness—a place to be avoided. Today, we still have lights on the front of our houses, and when we know company is coming, it is often custom to leave the light on.
For individuals with autism spectrum disorders, however, the houses we encounter—be they school, a disability service center, even the place we supposedly call home—are often dark. We have been outcast, shunned, bullied, pushed around by a system that itself sits in darkness. There is no welcome for us, Mr. President. Time and again, we look for the light on the front of the house, and it is nowhere to be found.
Too often, people on the autism spectrum spend their entire lives in these dark houses. We have met rejection even at the hands of our own families, whose inability to understand our diagnosis and who we are leads to prolonged emotional and social isolation—a painful reminder of how much we don’t fit in, even with those whose blood we share.
And yet, with our honesty, loyalty, and compassionate natures, the houses we build as adults stay lit. We grow up; we find our way in this world that is not built for people like us, persevering, and despite the pain we have felt and the heartaches we have suffered, we let others in, not wanting them to face the same dark houses in which we once lived.
It is for these reasons and so many others, Mr. President and First Lady Michelle, that I am asking you to light the White House blue on April 2nd this year, in honor of World Autism Awareness Day. Our voices have typically not been those that are heard in the arena of politics, but with a single action, this can change . By taking part in this campaign, you will bring hope and encouragement to countless individuals on the autism spectrum and their loved ones. Stand with the autism community, and let your commitment to our cause shine bright.
Let your house be one with the lights on.
– Amy Gravino
Self-Advocate, Writer, Asperger’s Syndrome College Coach