In case you didn’t know already, April is Autism Awareness Month. In honor of Autism Awareness we are going to be giving you information and resources related to autism spectrum disorders. I happen to know a whole lot about this particular topic because my youngest son, Max, was diagnosed ten years ago with this disorder. And before my son was born, I was working in the field of mental health and special education for over a decade. All together I probably have about twenty five years of experience with autism from the perspective of a teacher and as a parent.
Despite all my years of experience I readily admit that there is still much I do not know about autism. Autism is not an easy disorder to understand or to explain. Imagine how difficult it is for the average person - who has practically no knowledge or experience - to know what to think when they encounter a person who is on the autism spectrum. This is where education and awareness campaigns can help.
I thought I would start off our awareness of autism spectrum disorders by approaching this from a purely personal perspective. Although there are many facts and statistics I could cite for you, I think that it is easier for people to dismiss such information because it is cold and impersonal. But when you see that this disorder is linked to a flesh and blood human being, a child who could be your own, then you might stop to notice.
Every person who has autism is loved by someone. Autism does not exist in a vacuum. We are talking about someone’s sister, brother, daughter, nephew, son, niece or friend.
As a loved one of a person who has autism, here are some things I would like you to know.
1. All people with autism are not like Rain Man. I know many people who have seen this movie and then come to the conclusion that the character portrayed represents all autistic people. My son has never watched Wheel of Fortune nor does he count cards at the blackjack table at Vegas. People with autism are not all savants with super powers. People with autism have a wide range of gifts just like anybody else.
2. People with autism can and do show affection. They just might not show it in the ways you want or expect them to. And this is okay. Some people with autism might have tactile sensitivities. They might not be too excited about a surprise bear hug from someone for example. But this doesn’t mean that they don’t feel love or caring for others. To say that someone with autism is devoid of feeling or ability to show affection is a leap in judgment which makes no logical sense, but endures as a harmful stereotype.
3. Children with autism do grow up. Last year I did an interview with Stephen Shore, who is an advocate, author, and also someone who is on the autism spectrum. He reported that one of the biggest challenges in the autism world is getting people to understand that autistic children will become autistic adults. Services for persons with autism spectrum disorders are predominantly for young children. But what happens when that child becomes an adult? Contrary to some people’s beliefs, most children who are diagnosed with autism do not “grow out of” autism. Many will continue to need some sort of support and services well into their adult years.