I've spilled much digital ink, as have my peers, about how Awareness (TM) actually hurts autistic people, how we need acceptance not awareness, and all the things that go along with that. People don't really want to hear that. It's like how it effects us doesn't matter or something.
Okay. Fine. So let me tell you who else it hurts: young typically developing children. No, really. And their families too.
Here's the thing: autism awareness seeks to make everyone afraid of autism. It can strike at any time! Eat your baby! It lurks! Seeking to destroy you! (because that's totally how a neurology works right?). Awareness charities want everyone to be on high alert for autism and they want you to be scared of autism.
Well boy howdy have they succeeded. Everyone is afraid of autism. Great. Wonderful. Well done. And everyone thinks they can spot an autistic person.
But they can't. So you have all these families hypervigilantly watching their toddlers for signs of autism so they can intervene, because Awareness Inc told them they can intervene and turn an autistic child into a typical child.
Things Awareness Inc has them worried about? Turns out most aspects of autism, particularly in young children, are in no way limited to or mostly found in autistic kids!
Your two year old isn't talking in sentences? That is in fact normal. Your toddler screams, cries, and generally has no emotional regulation? Well yeah, they're very very young. That's normal too. A three year old who hates change and doesn't like to share? That's not out of the ordinary either. A whole lot of traits and behaviors that the Awareness (TM) lobby has you afraid of are just part of being tiny children.
Autism isn't the reason a five year old won't go to an art gallery quietly. Being five is. No five year old is going to enjoy that, okay? Most preschoolers are not able to deal with fancy pants restaurants. They just aren't. It's okay. They're little!
People are really under educated about child development and psychology in general. Over and over, parents and other adults make developmentally inappropriate demands on children, regardless of the kids' neurologies. Adults just, on the whole, are very bad at knowing what is and isn't typical for a child of a given age--what it is reasonable to expect of an average child of any given age group. People ascribe motivations that are far beyond little babies all the time (a 6 month old is developmentally unable to do something to spite you. Ever. They just are). They think kids have more executive functioning capacity than they do, more emotional regulation capacity than they do, and better ability to access their words in times of stress than they do. And this is when we're talking about neurotypical children!
Then you add the urgency of Awareness (TM) on top of this. Now you have every adult who sees a kid having a hard time hypothesizing that the kid is either spoiled or autistic. That's a snap judgement on very little information and mighty hasty. Little kids of all neurologies have loud failures to deal. Kids do in fact have to learn to talk, and they do it later and slower than people seem to think.
Not everything that baffles or inconveniences adults is either spite or a developmental disability. Sometimes it's developmentally right on time. Panicking that everything is a sign of autism isn't helping these families. It isn't helping typical kids whose parents panic and decide they must have autism--even if they avoid harmful interventions and quack treatments, that's still a lot of stress and a lot of microscope-examining (which is more stress) all around.
Breathe. Calm down. Not everything autistic people do is something just autistic people do. You don't need to be Mad Eye Moody with his constant vigilance. It'll all be ok. Give your kids time to breathe, to develop, to learn how to do things like regulate their emotions and use their words. They need more time than you think they do.
We need more awareness of how children develop in general, less panicking about neurodivergences in specific. Awareness(TM) without that background provides a lot of unnecessary worry and that's bad for everyone.