April is Autism awareness month. I’m certain that by today, you’ve seen a facebook post or a newscast or one of the “light it up blue” campaign advertisements. I always wondered if they chose April because it starts with an “A” and how catchy is it to say “April is Autism Awareness Month”? It is really catchy. April is also a month (here in the Ohio River Valley) with tumultuous weather. April has these amazingly perfect days back to back with intense storms and week-long downpours. From the 10+ years I’ve spent working with people on the autism spectrum, this is quiet fitting.
I am fortunate to know a number of people who fall onto the autism spectrum. Working in Applied Behavioral Analysis Therapy & direct support services for people with all kinds of disabilities for over 10 years, I met so many amazing individuals on the spectrum. I’ve been lucky enough to see lots of break-through moments, and I have also experienced the heart-wrenching loss of a young client who suffered from very severe autism. I have found so many spectacular, quirky things that I love in the clients I have worked with. At the same time, seeing the challenges faced by these same people, I would not wish autism on anyone.
One of my cousins has autism and has been my little buddy since he was a baby (now he towers over me! And still I call him my “little buddy”). This handsome young guy has shown our family how to think and how to love outside of the box. I am grateful that he and I have always found a connection and been close. He definitely sparked my interest in working with children and ABA therapy. Through learning how to get to know my own cousin, I found a career that I loved and was good at. This April actually marks 1 year since I left that career to stay at home with my own children. I could write an entire page about the making of that decision. For now, I will just say that it was tough…But it was right for my boys and for me. I left the position I had worked toward (in a facility I kind of helped build) for 5 years. It was more than simply an adjustment…Once you get involved with families in the autism community (be it work or volunteer or personal reasons) you will just fall in love with their dedication, heart, and sense of humor. It is hard to take yourself out of “the fight” and focus on other things…even when “other things” are your own sweet, sweet baby boys!
However, my own journey with my cousin, my clients, friends, ABA, stay-at-home-motherhood, etc…is not why we are talking about Autism. We are talking about Autism because it is April and because the CDC is saying 1 in 68 children in the USA are on the spectrum. Because we don’t know exactly what causes this disorder and even after all these years of study, we can’t seem to fully “rehabilitate” those with it. And while I hope this month brings a wave of funding for organizations that work toward improving the lives of people with autism. Maybe someday they will find a cure or a trigger to avoid, or something. But…I also hope that this month brings simple understanding and tolerance. Not every part of autism is devastating. Some of my “autistic” buddies have the best senses of humor, the most creative ideas, amazing focus and concentration, abilities to retain information I could never remember, and hearts with more room in them than you could know from a first impression. And although I hate that these kiddos suffer under this label of “autism” and struggle in ways others may not have to…I appreciate the personalities they have and the beauty of who a person with autism blossoms into as he/she works to overcome the struggle to simply be apart of this society. SO, be aware that someone you encounter out in our community could have autism and could be struggling…be kind, be patient, or at the very least, mind your business and don’t be one of those jerks who stares.
I’ve not read this book yet, but this quote is one of my newer favorites:
“I know of nobody who is purely autistic, or purely neurotypical. Even God has some autistic moments, which is why the planets spin.” – Jerry Newport