Raising a child with autism for the last 15 years, I have learned more than I could ever imagine about autism. There’s nothing like hands-on experience to teach you about autism. You can go online, or talk to “professionals,” but that is never enough to learn about your autistic child. A lot of what they focus on are characteristics that are similar to a lot of autistic individuals. What they don’t tell you about autism is what it means for your child.
My son is not a typical autistic child, yet he is. He has the characteristics of avoiding eye contact, shying away from touches, dislike of loud noises (really sensitive hearing, even though he has hearing issues), poor fine motor skills, poor communication skills (he’s completely nonverbal), OCD, and a few others. Those are facts. Those are things you can read about, or ask a doctor about.
My son is also the sweetest, most caring person you will ever meet. He is always thinking about his sister, before himself. There are times when he will want to do something because it’s what she wants, even though he doesn’t want to. He will also watch videos online that he knows she loves, even though he doesn’t. He will also give up the computer if she were to ask. Yeah, that’s a biggie. She doesn’t even have to be in the room when she’s asking me if she can have computer time. He will hear her and get up from the computer. He doesn’t do that for me.
My son has a great sense of humor. It’s little off center, but so is mine. We tend to laugh at the same things. He also has the sweetest giggle, and a smile that will light up his eyes. When he’s smiling and giggling, I feel like everything is right in the world. Laughter is a great stress reducer, especially when the laughter comes from your child.
My son loves to help me in the kitchen when I’m making one of his favorite meals. I have the kind of kitchen that has everything all over the place. I have to constantly go from one end, to the other, while cooking. When my son helping me, I just ask him to grab something or throw something away. Most of the time, I don’t even have to ask. If he knows what I am making, he’ll just go grab things out of the pantry for me without being asked. He also grabs anything I put on the counter that is trash, and throw it away.
They don’t tell you these things about autism, because they are individual traits. These are the things that go into making up his personality. These are things that you learn about your child, and no one else can tell you. Autism is a diagnosis that labels a set of characteristics. Autism isn’t my son. Autism isn’t who my son is. Autism is just a label that describes some of the things he does or doesn’t do. Autism doesn’t dictate everything my son is capable of doing. It doesn’t dictate what he will learn.
Someone once told me that it would be a waste of time to teach my son sign language. They said it was not a practical form of communication to teach him, because he doesn’t sign back. This upset me, because he was a little boy at the time. It also upset me because his teachers have said that he had used some signs in the classroom. It also upset me because they weren’t even willing to consider teaching him. They didn’t think he was capable of learning it. Well, that didn’t stop me or his teachers. He signs words for quick conversation. He can answer questions, or indicate a need he has, using a sign. He doesn’t sign in complete sentences, but that doesn’t mean he never will. He just doesn’t do so right now.
Going online, or talking to a professional, is a good way to learn about the basics agreed upon for what autism is. Asking a parent about their autistic child is how you learn about one autistic child. Raising an autistic child teaches you about raising your autistic child. Don’t assume you know everything about autism just because you did some research online, or attended an autism workshop. Honestly, from my experience, I’ve had the most frustrating run-ins with people that felt they knew everything about autism, (and how to best help my son), because they took an autism workshop.
This is Autism Awareness Month. Take some time to volunteer for an organization that works with autistic children everyday. If you have a friend with an autistic child, spend some time with your friend and find out what you can do to help. If you have a neighbor that you have been afraid to talk to, because their child is autistic, put on your big girl panties and go talk with her. (Yeah, I said her. For the majority of families with an autistic child, you are going to find the mother with her child.) Everyone can make a difference. You’d be surprised at how much difference just one person can make in an autism family’s life.