As some of you may already know, the month of April is Autism Awareness month, and today, April 2nd, is Autism Awareness Day. Throughout this month, I plan on bringing you posts relating to the topic- ranging from our personal journey and the facts, to featuring companies that support Autism Awareness. My hope is that one person will learn something from these posts and pass it on to others.
The new statistics now say that 1 in 88 children are affected by Autism. (1 in 54 boys, 1 in 252 girls). With numbers like this, if you do not yet personally know someone affected, you likely will in the near future. And yet I am still astounded by the amount of ignorance still out there on the topic.
About a week ago, we were out to eat when Shaun had a horrible, public meltdown. My Shaun is most certainly a screamer (and a hitter, and a kicker...and yes, even a biter) and it wasn't pretty, but it isn't something we were used to and were actively dealing with...we'd only been in the restaurant about a minute (our drink orders had not even been taken yet), and had we been left to our own devices, he'd have been calmed in just a minute more. In the past, we've received a lot of dirty, 'what kind of parent are you' looks. Those I am used to as well, but what happened next still upsets me. A man in the next booth turns and yells, not at us the parents, but at my child! First and foremost, I believe it is inappropriate to yell at another person's child anyway, but when my husband calmly tried to explain to this man that our child had Autism and we were calming him down, etc...he continued to go on and call my son rude and just be incredibly hateful. You know those situations where sometimes it's not the words that are said, but the tone in which they are said...that was this type of situation. I truthfully cannot remember all that was said, but I remember the ignorance and the hatefulness from this man. It broke my heart and I had to scoop up Shaun and leave the restaurant. Sadly, while this is the first situation we have personally faced to this extreme, I know that it happens all too often, and I fear that as my little man gets older-and his actions are seen less socially appropriate for his age- that it is a scene we will have to face again.
So often, people see a child 'misbehaving' and are quick to judge. 'Oh, he's so spoiled.', 'They're bad parents.', 'He's just a bad kid.'...they do not take the time to consider that there is something deeper going on and that you cannot simply 'spank the Autism away'. Our child is disciplined. We have therapists who have come in and helped us with his behavior issues and actively try to keep things under control. But people do not see this, all they see is a screaming child, ready to throw himself off the table.
It is not just public meltdowns. My son is a runner, and for that reason, at 4 he is still occasionally in a stroller. And though we rarely use it, we also have a strap that goes around his wrist and mine if we need it. Some parents use the harnesses. At this age, many deem these as inappropriate as well, but we see them as a necessary precaution...I'd rather get ugly looks from parents than to lose my child in a crowd or God forbid, run in front of a moving car! Sometimes, he licks thing (or chews, or bites)...these are things we are working on. Shaun has many other little traits that some might see as unusual, but most of his aren't seen by the general public- for other kids it can be much more obvious-hand flapping, rocking, etc. People often see them as weird or worse, and never take the chance to see them for who they truly are.
There is also a common misconception that individuals with Autism are dumb. I think this one is the absolute worst because I know it to be far from the truth. I have told my husband several times- I was an honor roll student in school, straight A's, National Honor Society, I read early, participated in academic teams, etc- but even at four years old, I can tell that this boy is going to be smarter than I could ever have dreamed of being. At only 2 years old, he taught himself to read sight words...at 4 he reads books like a pro, much to the shock of everyone around him. He has recently begun learning how to count to 100, and has just about mastered that! His speech may have developed later than that of his peers, and he may still not communicate at the level that he should, but his mind is simply amazing. It may work a bit differently than that of a 'typical' child, but that does not mean it is less. (I will later share some other great minds suspected of being on the spectrum...it is truly astounding!)
It is for these reasons, this ignorance, that raising awareness is so very important. I do not want my son to be seen as 'that Autistic kid', but rather 'that amazing, genius of a boy who just happens to have Autism'. I don't want him to be judged and thought of as less than, when I know he is capable of so much. I don't want people to look down on him and call him rude or dumb or God forbid use the r-word, because I know that he is the sweetest, most lovable, smartest boy I know. I want him to go through life without having to deal with the jerks like the man at the restaurant but rather to be given the support, understanding and respect that he deserves. I want the world to embrace and accept him as the amazing individual that he is, Autism and all. And not just for him, but for his friends and ALL affected by Autism.
So today, this month and always, I ask you to join me in spreading awareness. Share this post, write your own. Wear blue in support of Autism Speaks Light It Up Blue campaign. Donate to one of the many Autism charities. Sign up for your local Walk Now For Autism Speaks. Change your FB photo to a child you love affected by Autism, or a photo of yourself wearing blue, holding a sign- whatever, get creative! Use pinterest, Facebook, Twitter...buy an Autism Awareness magnet for your car! (I have a fellow Autism mom friend who covers her car window with the stats during April!) I would love to hear about all of your efforts, and a huge thank you in advance!