Raise your hand if you know someone affected by autism. Is everyone’s hand up? I thought so.
The statistics are staggering. Since it is Autism Awareness month, I should be educating you about all of these things. Instead, I am going to ask you, as my friends, to take some time to consider the lives of those who live with autism.
I have a son with autism. As someone who is intimately involved with what it means to have this “statistic” be a part of her everyday life, I am going to share some of my insights and aspirations with you.
Try Not to Judge
Do you think any parent wakes up and says “what can I do to mess up my kid today?” Don’t most people pretty much do the best they can? Sure, mistakes are made, but don’t we all make them? Nothing is more heartbreaking to a mother of a child with autism than when we are slammed for our parenting skills.
Please consider this: when you see a child in public throwing a hissy fit, ask yourself if that child may have autism. Did you know that children on the spectrum can have such severe sensory issues that light and sound can actually be physically painful? Also, anxiety can be so significant in our kids that their fear can be palpable. This too contributes to some of the doozies you may see in public.
Our kids run back and forth, rock, wiggle their fingers, flap and make all kinds of funny noises. These can be actual coping mechanisms for said sensory issues and anxiety. They help make them feel better, more safe and secure. Try to explain this to kids who may see this stuff as prime teasing material.
It Takes a Village
When a child is diagnosed with cancer there is usually an influx of love, support and casseroles for the affected family. When a child is diagnosed with autism, sometimes you hear crickets. However, our families need some of the love and support too. It is ok to say “I have no idea what you are going through, but if you need a hug or an open ear, I am here for you.” Encourage moms and dads to get sleep and to ask for help if they need it. Also, see if you can include kids with autism in activities with their peers. It is okay to have to have a conversation with a parent that says “I’d like to have your child at our birthday party, but I have to be honest, I do not know what to do.” Also, don’t hesitate to offer a high-five and “You must be doing something right. I see progress.” Comments like this reenergize me and help me focus on the promise of a positive future.
Autism has given my family some of its greatest and worst moments. Nothing sears my soul more than when a grown adult turns his or her back on my sweet son, who, with awkward social skills, yells “what’s your favorite number?” at the top of his lungs at Walmart. That same soul soars with love and hope when a grizzled, bearded Harley man gets down on his knee, takes my son’s hands and says “thirteen. What’s yours?”
Having a special needs child is not always a walk in the park. However, as my friends, I wish you this in life: may you have an experience that teaches you the impossibly amazing power of unconditional love.
Families with autism have a lot of hope in their lives. Our kids have potential and people are always working on ways to maximize our children’s gifts. On behalf of all of us, I thank our family and friends, teachers, therapists, legislators, doctors and churches.
Mid-Michigan Autism Association is a great resource that is working to unite the Capital area community. Find them here.
Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew
By Ellen Notbohem