Choose Kindness

It’s Autism Awareness / Acceptance month, I care and you should too.  

I don’t have a child with Autism or any other disability, physical, intellectual or developmental.  I don’t know all the facts or the details of this condition (is it even called a condition), I truly don’t know the daily struggles of Autism, I don’t know what it’s like to be told that my child is on the spectrum and I don’t always know the right things to say or the best way to communicate. What I do know is that it’s my responsibility to be inclusive, supportive and patient and to teach my children the same. I do know that it only takes a smile or a kind gesture to make someone’s day.  I do know that each and every person is unique in their own way and that having a disability does not make you any less of a person. I do know that I have to advocate and educate so we can see a difference and really change how society views people with disabilities.

A little background, I have always sincerely cared about everyone feeling comfortable. It could be because my Uncle Jimmy had an intellectual disorder, and I fell in love with him the first time we met in Ireland.  And growing up I spent time with our neighbor as well as my best friend’s aunt, Maggie, who also had an intellectual disability. My life’s path led me to Morreale Communications where I worked closely with the Illinois Council of Disabilities, The Arc of Illinois, Access Living and several other advocacy agencies throughout the state.   I had the pleasure of getting to know many people with varying disabilities and developed lasting friendships. It became crystal clear that outside of the disability community nobody really understands the struggles and legislative changes needed to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.

I believe that everything happens for a reason, I met Joe Chura while working on an advocacy campaign and now work for him at Dealer Inspire.  As Director of Recruitment, one of my goals is to develop a successful program to hire people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) and provide a framework that we can share with the world (dream big)!   I’m fortunate to be able to provide for my family, focus on career development as well as work my personal life mission into my job. It’s really great to work for a company that supports what you believe in and allows you take action.

So now that you understand the root of my passion, let me help you understand why this should be important to you too.

A few facts to consider:

  • 70 million individuals worldwide have autism.
  • Over 3.5 million individuals in the United States have autism.
  • Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the United States.
  • 1 in 42 boys are diagnosed with autism.
  • 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism.
  • There is currently no medical test to detect autism or a cure.
  • There are five types of autism-spectrum disorders: Pervasive Developmental Disorder- Not Otherwise Specified, Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Rett Syndrome and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.
  • 35% of young adults (19-23) with autism have not had a job or received post graduate education after leaving high school.
  • The majority of adults with autism are unemployed or underemployed.
  • Autism is a lifelong disorder. It doesn’t go away when you become an adult.
  • More than half of children with autism are bullied at some point in their lives.
  • More than half of bullying is stopped when a peer intervenes showing the importance of not only autism awareness but also autism acceptance.
  • Autism is NOT a disease.

I’m not the least bit concerned about paying bills on time, what I’m going to wear to the next social fundraiser or who’s turn it is to carpool.  What keeps me up at night is all that is wrong in the world and why people don’t care or help one another. I worry that my kids won’t have the courage to talk to the kid that looks or acts different.  It makes me sad knowing that there are people unemployed or underemployed because they are not even given a chance. It overwhelms me and it’s hard to navigate how to make a bigger difference and get people outside of the disability circle to care.  

So yes, I can handle the hustle most days with ease because career and parenting goals are easily achievable. Fixing our world seems impossible, it’s so overwhelming that it can make me lose my focus. Sometimes I can’t even breathe thinking about all that is wrong in the world … all the social injustice, violence in Chicago, refugees, oppression, mental illness, poverty, homeless… urgh .. makes my head spin and my heart ache.  

So I do my part by ingraining in my family that all people are created equal and that we expect them to always be kind and accepting.  It’s a consistent discussion at dinner and a regular reminder when out and about. They understand that if someone is sitting alone that it is their job to either sit with that person or invite them to their table.  They understand that not all disabilities are visible and that just because you look different you might actually have a lot in common. And they understand that small gestures are a big deal and if they want to see a difference, they need to be the difference.  

Please be kind, accepting and offer accommodations for people in need, and please expect the same from your family and friends.   To sum in up, don’t be an asshole and teach your kids to be nice.  Seems obvious enough, right?  

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”  ― Mother Teresa




Michelle Arnold