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.
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
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