Today is Autism Awareness day… the beginning of Austism Awareness month.
It has only been little over a month since my grandson Gavin was officially diagnosed with autism on his third birthday. Less than three months since my daughter and I were convinced this was the inevitable journey on which we would soon embark.
I have learned more in these three short months about Autism Spectrum Disorder than I ever knew existed.
I was ‘aware’. I had been ‘aware’ for several years. I knew ‘of it’ and some (albeit very little) ‘about it’. Now that the diagnosis has moved in to live with our family, knowing ‘of’ and ‘about’ are no longer sufficient. It’s time to know it up close and personal. How best to do this? Educate ourselves. Learn to UNDERSTAND it. What it is. What it is not. What causes it and how it affects not only the child/adult, but the parents, extended family, friends and acquaintances.
I’m learning all this now at a greatly accelerated speed. Because I have to.
But what about society as a whole? Is there a need for the rest of us to know, and more importantly, to UNDERSTAND? This is something I have given a great deal of thought to recently. Because it wan’t long ago that I was amongst the ones I now attempt to reach. We humans have a natural tendency to fear..or ignore.. the unknown. We may nibble around the edges of a topic, but if it doesn’t affect us personally, it ends up at the bottom of our priority list, placed on the back burner, or gets trashed all together. It’s difficult to establish an emotional relationship with something you don’t understand.
Let us remember back to when we were children, teenagers. The ‘new kid’ is introduced to class.
He looks different. Acts different. Perhaps even speaks a different language. How did most of us react? Did we immediately reach out and befriend him, or did we choose to cautiously stand back until we got to know him better? A rare brave soul might have reached out and embraced him, putting aside all noticeable differences. Most would have watched from a distance (to make sure he was ‘one of us’), perhaps gradually warmed up to him, and made some effort to get to know or understand him better. Some would ‘trash’ him right from the start.. their cruel mocking and taunting crushing his spirit.
And so it remains today regarding people, cultures, concepts, ideas, and even foods. We avoid, ignore, or discard what we don’t know, don’t understand, haven’t ‘tasted’.
Why is UNDERSTANDING so important?
Understanding removes fear. Understanding is the light that reveals truth and chases away all preconceived notions, ‘hearsay’, and assumptions. Understanding opens the door to communication, and communication fosters even greater understanding. Ultimately, and most importantly, understanding leads to ACCEPTANCE.
I was one who was ‘aware’, but had little understanding. I might have been the one who rolled her eyes at the child in the airport or grocery checkout line when he was acting out due to sensory overload, causing him severe physical discomfort. I might have been the one who became irritated at the child who ignored my attempts at interaction. I might have been the one who criticized the parents of the child who was not yet potty trained , was a ‘picky eater’, or unable to feed himself at the table. I might have been uncomfortable around the child who would spin, flap, or walk on his toes. I might have been all of these.
Now able to recognize the behaviors and their meaning, I am no longer so quick to judge, no longer tempted to criticize. I can now spot a child with ASD, pick him out in a crowd……. and smile.
UNDERSTANDING what autism is, why these behaviors exist and how they provide comfort and a safety zone for the child, who due to no fault or choice of his own is forced to live in a world of sensory overload, a child who has no way of removing the excess sensory stimulation, no control over how his brain does or does not process the sensory input, and no control over how or when he will master fine or gross motor skills.. is crucial to ACCEPTANCE of the child, the parents, the differences, and the behaviors.
Acceptance creates a level of trust.
Trust is essential for both the children/adults on the spectrum and to the many families whose daily struggle is certainly difficult enough without having to constantly fear the harsh critique, the actions or reactions of a society lacking understanding of ASD.
My hope is that Autism Awareness Day or Month will soon evolve to an atmosphere of awareness, understanding, and acceptance year round. My prayer is that hurtful looks and remarks will be a thing of the past, not to mention the bullying that so many on the ASD spectrum continue to endure. As adults gain greater understanding of autism, I pray they nurture and teach their children well..that those with autism are different yet no less equal, deserving of as much love and respect as they desire for themselves.
My hope is that we no longer wait until we are personally affected to strive to reach this lofty goal. With one of every 110 children now diagnosed with autism, (one of every seventy boys) we need to ALL do our best to further education, understanding, and acceptance of Autsim Spectrum Disorder. May we ALL be a solution to the puzzle.