Monday, April 14, 2008

Autism - Be Aware. Be Understanding.



Autism is a scary.

Autism is stressful.

Autism is complex.

Autism is colorful.

Autism is funny.

Autism is joyful.

Autism is a puzzle.



After eight years of living with autism in our home, I have experienced all of the above. Those first frightening moments of having a specialist tell me my son had autism and what it meant. The stress of intense therapy sessions and challenging behaviors. The complexity of trying to figure out why my son reacted certain ways in different situations or places. The colorfulness of having crayons, eggs, and poop smeared on the walls. The funny moments we share and the sound of our son's laughter. The roller-coaster ride we call The Ferguson Family Life that brings joy into our home. The puzzle of wondering what the future holds for my son.

As a mom of a child with autism, one of the most difficult things I come in contact with is other people's judgment.

You see, the media likes to show the severe side of autism. Which is good - to a point.

When my son was diagnosed at age two, he showed all the severe signs. In fact, he was diagnosed as severely autistic. After years of therapy, today he is a fairly average eight-year-old . . . with some quirks. It's rare for him to display his more severe behaviors anymore. He has to be pushed and pushed to be angry enough to have a melt down.

So, when I go out with my son - let's say to Walmart - he may see something he really, really likes and decides he has to have it. He may keep asking me over and over for it. Hmm . . . this all sounds pretty normal for an eight-year-old, right? The part that's hard is if I can't redirect his attention in a way that satisfies him, then he will become frustrated. Which could include him becoming louder or running away from me. If we still can't resolve the situation or leave the store quickly, then he'll become even more frustrated which could mean kicking, pinching, or yelling "I hate you!"

Now be honest. If you saw a third grader behaving like this, you would think he's either:

1. A spoiled rotten brat throwing a fit, in which case the parents really should learn how to control their child.

or

2. A victim of abuse, in which case you watch the parent like a hawk, with your cell phone ready to call 9-1-1 if you feel the situation isn't handled in a calm, appropriate manner.

I've come up against both scenarios. Sometimes when I explain to on-lookers that my son has autism, I will actually get someone who says, "I know what autism is. I've seen the shows on TV. Your son doesn't have autism."

This is when I truly dislike the media and their portrayal of autism. But that's not really what my blog is about today.

Today, my blog is about autism awareness. My favorite t-shirt says:

"Autism - Be Aware. Be Understanding."

My wish for this month, is that the community will take the time to become more aware of autism, what it is, and the different ways it can affect both children and adults.

Autism comes in all different shapes and sizes. You can't look at someone and say, "Oh, he has autism." There are no physical features that make them stand out in a crowd. For example, the socially-shy, techno-geek in the cubicle next to you may have autism. Yes, there are perfectly normal adults out there who have autism and you wouldn't even guess. The only thing you might think is he's a true geek who's sucked into his computer. Adults with autism may go to college, married, and have families.

So this month, take fifteen, thirty, or sixty minutes and learn about autism.

But most importantly, be more kind and understanding, be a good neighbor. Perhaps the next time you see a kid in the middle of a tantrum, you won't think he's bad. Instead, you might remember that he could have special needs.

And maybe, just maybe, you'll offer the mom a bit of help in the check-out line.


For more information about autism, visit the following websites:

The Autism Society of America

Autism Research Institute

Autism Speaks

8 comments:

Mandi said...

Hey - I have a question for you. You hear on the media these days a lot of very heated arguments on the subject of whether or not autism can be caused by immunizations. Do you have any experience with this? Any opinions? It would be good to hear from the mother of an autistic child.

Danyelle Ferguson said...

Hi Mandi.

Good question - and one I get asked a lot. Here's my opinion:

I think autism is caused by a combination of genetics and environmental factors. I think there are kids who carry an autism gene (or something similar). But I believe the severity of autism is really based on how well their immune system and this gene can handle the environment around them. This includes vaccinations, milk, wheat, irons and other metals, etc.

There's a HUGE variety of factors that have been proven to make autism more severe. And when you remove that factor, the child with autism improves.

For example, our son completely lost his speech sometime between 12 to 18 months old. He didn't speak again until we took him off milk when he was 2 1/2 years old. A week after taking him off milk, he was speaking 50 words. Another week later, he had over 150 words in his vocab and was using 3-4 word sentences.

Milk actually effects many other things than just his speech, but this is one example.

Now, I have one more thing I want to say. I don't try to analyze why our son has autism for one very important reason. I know that if he wasn't supposed to have autism, then he wouldn't. Why? Because I know God is all powerful. If He didn't want my son to have autism, then he just wouldn't. But he does. And I know there's a reason he has autism - I just don't know the exact reason. But I do know that our son was a valiant spirit and is being protected by his autism. I also know he is in our family to help us grow and learn the things we need to return to live with Heavenly Father. It's part of our test - and I'm happy to take it on.

I hope this answers your question, Mandi. And thank you for asking.

Please feel free to ask more questions.

Bre Bell said...

I love this post! Thank you Thank you Thank you for it! I'm sitting in the airport right now wearing a t-shirt saying "I love my students with Autism" and have a pin on my backpack that says Autism Awareness. It's always a good conversation starter.

Oh, and isn't it amazing the audacity some people have to make rude comments like, "I know autism and it's not your son." Like they really have a clue. It's like those people who tell me that I'm a waste b/c I'm so tall yet I don't play sports. Dumb.

Anyway. gotta catch a flight! Have a great day!

Danyelle Ferguson said...

Bre -

You are so awesome. Sitting in an airport and checking out my blog. You rock!

Do people really tell you it's a waste that you're so tall and don't play sports? That's like saying it's a waste to have long fingers and not play the piano. Yikes! Not everyone wants to makes sports their life - or even their hobby!

I bet you get lots of fun comments about your t-shirt. Can I just say, you are one of the best teachers Isaac ever had? Our family agrees that you are awesome!

Mandi said...

Thanks - such an uplifting opinion! I appreciate your feedback!

Danyelle Ferguson said...

Mandi

No problem. If you have any more questions, be sure to let me know.

Marcia Mickelson said...

Thanks for your post. My son has Asperger's, a form of autism, and he's not very severe. I think when autistic kids aren't very severe, then there's even less understanding. People tend to be more understanding when the child is severe, but when they're higher functioning, people are like: well, he seems normal to me, almost doubting that they're autistic. They don't see what we see; they don't know.

Danyelle Ferguson said...

Marcia

I totally know what you mean. Our son started out being diagnosed as severe, but after all these years of therapy he actually fits in really well with his peers. He still has his quirks and things that will set him off. Often others look at him and think the same thing - he looks fine to me. I wish the media would talk more about this side of autism. It's amazing the things our kids accomplish.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I love hearing from other parents of special needs kids.

Review Disclaimer: Sometimes a book I review has been sent to me for free by a publisher or an author. This in no way effects my review, which is my own opinion about whether the book was a good read for me, fit my tastes, and if I would recommend it to others. Other than possibly a free book, I am not compensated in any way for posting a review.