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Awareness or A “wear”ness?

Wear blue! Wear green! Wear pink! Wear purple! Wear colourful/mismatched socks!

We’ve heard the call to arms...I mean...dress almost every month, sometimes multiple times a month; all in the name of “awareness.”

But what is awareness, really?

Several dictionaries define awareness as:

knowledge or perception of a situation or fact” and “concern or well-informed interest in a particular situation or development.”

As a millennial, I spend a lot of my time on social media...and so does the majority of my generation. There seems to be this fascination with touting oneself to be “aware” of on-trend topics. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not generation specific. This month, it’s Autism Spectrum Disorder. Last month, it was Down Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy and Brain Injury. While there are those, like myself, who work and live with and love these people, the vast majority don’t. BUT “it’s trending, and I need to get on the bandwagon. I can’t have people thinking I’m not in the know or aware!” Honestly, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with that. This is the embodiment of the first definition of awareness. Right?

However, the people who have these diagnoses and, probably more so, their families and caregivers are OVER the colour coordinated efforts to have a “knowledge or perception” of their situation. They are yearning and PLEADING for “concern or well-informed interest” regarding these or ANY diagnoses. They’re saying that we’ve beaten the “know about this thing” horse to death. Things need to be DONE. Putting on a colour specific item of clothing simply isn’t enough anymore.

I remember for World Down Syndrome Awareness day, I walked a little ways off from my office to buy something to eat proudly wearing my mismatched colourful socks. I remember hoping that someone would ask me about it and I’ll give them the full run down, explain trisomy 21, that I work with people with DS, why mismatched socks were chosen to represent the day...the works! However, I approached said food vendor and the following conversation ensued after I placed my order:

Vendor 1: (looking at my feet) I like your style

Me: (with a bright smile) Thanks! It’s World Down Syndrome day! We use the socks to...

Vendor 1 to Vendor 2: Ey boy. Look they make a day for you (brace yourselves) with your retarded self.

Me: ....

Vendor 2 to Vendor 1: I rather be retarded than living St. Ann’s.

(insert scandalous laughter here)

Me: (bright smile disappears)

I was stunned; speechless. Should I have used that as a teaching moment? Definitely! Did I? I wanted to but my brain couldn’t fathom how two GROWN men openly used derogatory terms and joked about serious diagnoses where DS and mental health were concerned. I walked back to my office sullen. I was in disbelief. These men were “aware”, they knew about DS and mental health issues. But their awareness wasn’t enough. And it shows.

The second definition of awareness beckons one to action. It calls on the one who abides by it to do more than just “know”. The word “concern” highlights the concept that whether or not one is directly impacted, our humanity, our sympathy, our empathy should be invoked. The phrase “well-informed” suggests that research and reading and conversation is involved, nay, required!

Wear anything you want but think about it. Where on the spectrum (pun FULLY intended) are you in your take on awareness?

Knowledge and perception of


Concern and well-informed interest

What’s your Choice?

Kiara M. Matthews, MS, CCC-SLP

Founder and Speech-Language Pathologist

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