So here we are again. It’s April. It’s Spring. It’s National Autism Awareness Month, and I get to think to myself what autism means to me as someone who is outside of it, yet getting an inside glimpse into the world of someone living with autism, my son Michael. What can I say without sounding cliché? Michael has taught me more in eleven years than many others have taught me in my forty odd years on the planet, and the thing is, I keep learning more. I keep learning how to be more patient, more giving, more introspective of how I feel and why I say what I do. Michael has also helped me come out of my shell socially. Yeah, I know. Sounds ironic, doesn’t it? The thing is, Michael was social and very interactive with the world, even when he did not know how to communicate with Dad and I. He was a curious baby and toddler, even if he would sometimes tune out from us. It was like there was this wall between him and us that he wanted to break through, but could not. His frustrations became our frustrations, until the glorious day that I was able to start meeting him halfway and he decided to do the same. He learned through play how to communicate with me and I with him. Then came singing together. Then came speaking to one another. I remember his explosion of words like it was yesterday, and the joy he found in talking and expressing himself. I was ecstatic! I could finally have a window into who my little boy was. Communication, whether by voice, pictograms, IPad or sign language, is a bridge we parents have with our exceptional kids to know who they are and what matters to them.
After when Michael got older, we talked more things together. Learning how to socialize with others, practicing social skills and customs, learning to read and write, and now as a tween, I am getting to see another side of Michael I have never seen before. He will occasionally share things he remembers from childhood. As I sit with Michael today and think about what autism means for me, I can see that some things have not changed. Autism still means for me today what it did nine years ago when Michael was diagnosed; a different brain in a different boy which needs people and a world to give him a chance to show that though he may act differently than other children, is just like them inside. He wants love, friendship, laughter, and a chance to make a difference in the world. He has skills, abilities and something to offer as all children do. And, as he gets older, he needs the rest of society to see him as a future contributing member doing a job he will love to do while benefiting the world and people around him. I am so proud of how far he has come, and whenever I see other kids with autism I am always so impressed and in awe of them. They have all accomplished so much and fought so hard for where they are today when it can be so hard on their bodies and spirits at times. Support from family, society, and the right school can make all the difference.
Exceptional Parents, where do you find yourselves weighing in on National Autism Awareness Month? Do you take a few minutes every day to tell your child you are proud of them? We all forget to do this in the busyness of life, but it’s important we acknowledge our children’s strength and resilience in a world that is not always easy on them, physically or mentally. It’s also a great time to re-evaluate what Autism Awareness means to us and our family. To me, it means a world where autistic children and adults are given the opportunity to offer their unique gifts, whatever they are, to the world to make it a better more enriching place for all. Let’s all push for that, families, educational establishments and organizations together. We can all grow from supporting diversity in all its forms. Until next time.