Monday, January 17, 2011
Small Gestures=Big Differences
When Shaun was diagnosed with autism, I knew from the beginning that I wanted to do everything in my power to raise awareness and tolerance for my son and others like him. I have said several times that pre diagnosis I thought I knew quite a bit about autism- my brother had been suspected autistic back in the 80s but passed before being diagnosed so there was always a part of me that wanted to know more. My favorite book as a child was, 'Inside Out' by Ann M Martin, a book about a boy whose brother was autistic. For awhile I played around with the idea of working with children on the spectrum, or in special education in general. It has always held a special place in my heart. But even still Shaun's diagnosis came as a bit of a surprise. Autism is so complex, and I have found that despite the growing numbers, most still know very little about the disorder. It is for that reason that I have been very open and honest about Shaun's struggles- from his lack of sleep, to his brief issues with poop smearing (we believe he was acting out scenes from Thomas, going through mud- oh boy!), self injury behaviors, etc. It would be easy to pretend that things were easy and never bring attention to them, but if I did that, how would anyone learn? And if people don't know, how are we supposed to be tolerant of these differences? We have participated in the Autism Speaks walk in our area and are more than happy to donate to various autism organizations when possible (or buy lots of Snapple Compassionberry Tea to support the Hollyrod Foundation), but to me, while raising and donating money is wonderful, I believe raising awareness is in many ways just as important.
Now that you know where I'm coming from, you can imagine how wonderful it makes me feel when others tell me that they've learned something new because of my posts on here or via Facebook, or from just talking to me in general. I've had several people email to ask me questions about Shaun or wondering if people in their life may be on the spectrum. While I am in now way claiming to be an expert, I am always more than happy to share what I know in hopes that it will help someone or get people thinking and talking.
If you read the post about our train trip, you probably saw the pictures of Shaun wearing his 'Shauny shirt'...the tee that we made for the autism walk saying 'Autistic Kids Rock'. (pictured above) It is one of his favorites because it says his name. I specifically chose for him to wear that shirt on Day 1 of our trip so that if he would have had any difficulty on the train, people might have been more understanding. People can be very judgemental, and the kid screaming and kicking on the floor can get a lot of negative attention and unnecessary advice. We also come across issues where people want to ask Shaun all these questions- what's your name? how old are you? etc, etc that, while he's getting there, Shaun never really answers. I know people are merely being friendly but it can be very difficult for people to understand why he's not responding to their questions. On top of all those reasons, it's also a great way to get people talking, as we found out firsthand. As we were leaving the bathroom, we passed through a group of men waiting to exit the train. Noticing his shirt, one man agreed with the sentiment saying he believed his son might be on the spectrum and as the other men continued to talked, one man said that he was an adult with autism. Now unfortunately, I was unable to stay and hear where this conversation went because Shaun was pulling me away, but I cannot help but think how something so simple got these men (who were very manly men I might add), to start this discussion.
And so I will continue to proudly display our autism magnets on our truck, wear my autism bracelet and necklace and let Shaun wear his shirt. These are small gestures, but even the smallest things can make a difference. If more people will do these small things to start the conversation, I believe that one day more people will be more understanding to the differences and unique qualities that make Shaun who he is and to see that he is amazing, autism and all.