4.02.2009

Awash in Autism Awareness, and What You Can Do

Leo Hiking at Skyline Ridge
Autism: Coming Down a Trail Near You.

Leo has been home sick for several days, which means I was too distracted by autism to realize that Autism Awareness Month has begun.

He has an icky but manageable cold. I have tissues and hand sanitzer, and he's cheerful and ambulatory -- so I've been doing the same thing I always do to raise autism awareness, Pinky: making him a visible part of our community.

I've been hauling Leo onto local trails and sitting with him in the farthest corners of local cafes. Since "cheerful" does not mean "at his very best," his autism has occasionally been on display. There are some loud noises, there is some head slapping. Not enough of either to be disruptive, but there's not doubt that Leo is on that spot of the trail, in that part of the cafe.

We don't leave or move on, because tolerating hikes and cafes are part of Leo's learning process as a community member. So the noises and slaps are quickly followed by encouragement from me, by reassurance that he will be okay in the few minutes between him disappearing his croissant and me disapparating my coffee, that we will turn around and head back for the car after we've hiked to the lake.

Leo at Horseshoe Lake
The lake turned out to be reinforcer enough.

While ours wasn't an official effort, trust me: Anyone who has been anywhere near my son this week has been aware of autism.

And it's not enough. My son and our family and his peers need more than your awareness; we need your acceptance. For that to happen, for us to get beyond the theoretical and the puzzle ribbons, you and my son have to get to know each other. Cookie Magazine (of all sources) recently published some first steps you can take, via Paul Collins's guidelines for inviting his autistic son to your typical child's birthday party.

If you don't click through, then at least try to absorb this excerpt:
Having an autistic kid over can be almost thankless—while you'll get our fervent appreciation, there'll be at most a mumbled thanks from [our child]. But here's the thing: He notices. Months after [the] party, he kept surprising us with all the details he remembered, and he's still asking to go again. Of autism's many paradoxes, now you know its greatest one: Your kindnesses may not be acknowledged, but they're always felt.

I am not going to hide my son away so that you don't have to deal with him or think about him, but I will teach him to function the best he can when he's around you. For you to truly participate in Autism Awareness Month, you need to try to accept him as he is, right there in front of you, doing his best to navigate your frequently incomprehensible world.

Five other takes on Autism Awareness Month:

5 comments:

  1. Anonymous2:36 PM

    You describe true awareness. Leelo's participation in the community is beneficial to all and of course, unquestionably "right."

    I've "watched" you do what's right for Leelo and his friends for years. Your strength, insight, and wisdom continue to have no bounds. Lucky for him and us.

    with great respect, jersey girl

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  2. ah, very nice (and illuminating) take on our personal efforts for autism awareness. as in, actually appearing in our community - without apology. thanks for the reminder that it's not an imposition.

    mb

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  3. well-said. I agree. Awareness is knowing the good and the bad, and truthfully, they both exist. I am sorry that sometimes my daughter is too loud, or screechy or inconvenient...she is also a great kid. And she will tell you thank you..probably.

    T.

    and how funny is it that your captcha below is "unbeer" ??

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  4. this is NOT THE SAME (tm), but today in my on-campus yoga class--mostly full of lithe twenty somethings; some times i think i stand out just for being ten years older--there was a young woman with downs syndrome (accompanied by an aide). she occasionally answered rhetorical questions, or offered unexpected commentary. the teacher completely ignored her . . . and i found myself sad that there wasn't a way for her to acknowledge that someone in the class had spoken and integrate a response into the class. i'm sure the teacher--a lovely person--didn't want to call to single her out by throwing undue attention on her disability, but the silent treatment that was her response did just that. i'm not sure it would have occurred to me if i wasn't a longtime reader here. thanks, squid.

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  5. omg, that swagger! i love how you move from awareness to acceptance in this post, and in many other ways.

    hope he is better soon.

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Respectful disagreement encouraged.

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