So, April is the month for all sorts of awareness and appreciations. Aside from it being autism awareness month, it is also child abuse prevention month, jazz appreciation month, math awareness month, volunteer appreciation month, something with kite flying appreciation month, deaf history month and poetry month. There are more, but I don’t want to overwhelm anyone. There are a lot of reasons to be engaged, to be aware and to be appreciative.
Having a couple of kids on the spectrum (as in autism), I have always appreciated April. I’ve put up blue lights for the “light it up blue” campaign that is an Autism Speaks gig. I appreciate TJ Maxx donating money to the cause. I love seeing puzzle pieces and signs and t-shirts that sport the autism awareness slogans. I think that, for the most part, we (as a family) feel like we are a part of something big and beautiful and messy at times -- and that autism awareness is a good, great thing.
Let me add, my kids are actually pretty proud of their autism. My son, especially, has been able to articulate that autism is a part of him. He feels like he thinks in a very special way, he can appreciate that his brain is wired differently from his sisters’ brains, and he couldn’t give a fig what others think of him because he is who he is and that’s all that there is. It isn’t all sunshine and roses (believe me, we had a meltdown today), but he really is very (extremely) confident in who he is and he is quite ok with how he views the world. Katie is very similar, but I think she is a little more sensitive to being aware of how others look at her. She wants to be accepted, I think, and cares about how she looks, how she dresses, and what other people think. We all want to feel accepted, of course, to some degree, but Katie is very acutely desirous of being accepted... by everyone. We grow these kids with big, big hearts, and rejection is super, horribly painful! Tommy, I think, just has a little more experience to be himself, whereas Katie is a thirteen year old girl... a thirteen year old girl with less filters than the typical child and with super magnified sensitivities. Imagine a teenager. On steroids. With a lamborghini. In gridlocked traffic. It's a wild ride at our house, all the time, mind you.
Now, honestly, I can go on and on about the good, the bad, the ugly, etc. I can get snarky when I’m tired, and I can dramatize some ups and downs of being an autism family. There are a great many ups, and quite a fair share of downs, and not a lot in between. When it’s good, it’s very, very good, which leads to the opposite of that being true, as well. I can share that I’ve had to put on the mama-bear-just-coming-out-of-hibernation-with-three-bear-cubs-to-protect hat several times during my career of mom of special needs kids. I’ve had to fight for the better part of twenty years to gain ground with insurance companies, physicians, and school officials. It’s not easy to fight for things all the time, and it is very, very hard to have to watch your child fail at something several times before actions are taken to accommodate their needs (here is where I plug in that homeschooling is a great option if you can do it). And, just maybe, these are all reasons to make autism awareness worthy of a whole month.
Now that my oldest is twenty years old, I can actually see strides in the awareness of autism paradigm. Most people, everywhere in this country, are aware that autism is a thing. When I see an older child having a meltdown in the middle of Target I look for ways to help, and so do my kids, and so do a good many other people. Not too many long years ago, my ten year old had a meltdown in Target and I got the “oh, you’re that kind of parent” snickers from people. That being said, around that same time, we, (actually- the girls and I) were at a fabulous dance studio where my oldest daughter danced, and when Tommy had a meltdown there (because he just found out dinosaurs were extinct), one of the studio owner’s kids took my oldest daughter to class, another took my youngest to play with Barbies, and the owner ushered us into her office where we could melt and deal with extinction issues in private and away from stares and glares (Thank you, Bobbi!). Anyway... Autism awareness is a good thing, and we’ve come a long way.
Now, though, there is a new challenge as the first huge wave of diagnosed kids are graduating from high school and heading toward future goals (whether those goals include college, work, or living more independently), and that is acceptance. Acceptance is such a buzzword lately, and is usually directed at social situations. Well, autism is one such situation that requires acceptance. Patience, kindness, and time are the currency of living with, loving, and working with people on the autism spectrum. Ups and downs will abound. The payoff, though, is usually a very loyal and loving individual sharing their space and perspective with you. And usually, your mind will be blown away by the depth of that person’s understanding of their world -- and yours.
Keep calm, love autism, and parent on!