My gripe about “awareness” months (this month it’s Autism Awareness…)

colorful silicone wristbands

Did you know that April is Autism Awareness Month?

These “awareness” months tend to rub me the wrong way because they end up feeling like a big marketing push and excuse to sell branded products.

They’re like Hallmark manufactured holidays, designed to sell more cards, chocolates, or flowers, only in this case it’s keychains, t-shirts, mugs, pom-poms, plastic banners – all emblazoned with the Autism Awareness logos.

Pure marketing, in the yuckiest sense of the word.

Take a look at this garbage:

Autism Awareness Rubber Ducks





Autism Awareness Beach Balls


The truth is, you’d have to be living under a rock at this point to know be “aware” of autism, especially since rates keep jumping up, and just about everyone knows someone struggling with it.

According to the CDC autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability and is almost 5 times more common among boys (1 in 42) than among girls (1 in 189)(1).

Here’s the thing: research is piling up pointing to an environmental link to autism – so many of the chemicals we’re exposed to on a daily basis; flame retardants in our furniture, BPA in our cans and plastics and phthalates in our fragranced products to name a few – are increasingly being linked to behavioral changes consistent with autism diagnosis.

Just last month, the Endocrine Society presented the results of a study that examined the role of two chemicals that people are commonly exposed to on a daily basis: flame retardants and phthalates.

Study authors write:

“Perinatal exposure to a mixture of well-known endocrine disruptors, phthalates and PBDEs, at low doses alters the behavior of rat offspring toward autistic traits with more alterations observed in males, consistent with the observed sex ratio for ASD in humans (5:1 male:female). In addition, we observed less maternal bonding, hyperactivity, decreased social interactions, and an unusual escaping behavior.”(2) (emphasis mine)

Since so many hormones (adrenal, gonadal, and thyroid hormones for example) play an important role in brain development, any chemical that interferes with these hormones has the potential to alter normal brain development – sometimes in subtle ways, other times in devastatingly dramatic ways.

Our aim then is to identify and reduce our exposure to chemicals that have the ability to mess around with our hormones!

The lead author of that study went on to say: “Our research finds that the developing brain is extremely sensitive to chemical additives found in our daily environment, and these chemical can contribute to the development of autism… The good news is that these exposures are avoidable, contrary to genetic risk factors, which are almost always not modifiable.”

HELL YES. You read that right… the GOOD news is they are avoidable!

Also, how’s this for a load of BS?

Those rubber duckies and inflatable balls sold for “autism awareness” events around the world? They’re both made of vinyl – which contains… wait for it… PHTHALATES – the same chemical linked to autistic behaviors. Can you say absurd?

I agree that we need awareness, but not in the areas people think. We need increased awareness and discussion about the environmental links to this diagnosis, and what we as individuals can do about it.

Yes, I would love for government to sweep in and ban the use of chemicals linked to hormonal disruption, but that is likely never to happen.

So where does that leave us?

Taking the reigns ourselves – changing the things we buy, changing our habits, and changing our own awareness about the chemicals in our lives.

Doesn’t matter if it’s breast cancer month, autism month, or diabetes month – chemicals touch all of them.

I figure, if we can dial down exposures across the board, we’ll be better off regardless of the disease or the month on the calendar!

What is your impression of “disease months” like this?




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