Welcome to Yellowknife!

Seven years ago, my son was pronounced 'autistic.' It felt like we were being dropped into Arctic waters. I was shocked, numb, unprepared, and flailing. And the books I found didn't help, didn't tell us how to climb onto the ice, didn't advise us how to gear up and adjust to polar living. No, the books of the time focused solely on cures and recoveries, wove tales of autism-free tropical paradises. Of places where we'd never feel cold again.

In their tales of the horror and harshness of polar living, they did not allow that the north pole's magnetism is as mutable as it is strong, and that for families like ours polar living is simply - reality. We can adjust to it, we can learn how to work with it, or we can fight it. Our choice. But no matter how we go about it, we're working hard, and both we and our children deserve respect.

Click on over to BlogHer for my Autism Awareness Day post. It's a similar-themed though more expansive perspective on why we need a new geographic analogy for autism -- forget Welcome to Holland, that was written for parents of kids with Down syndome -- Welcome to Yellowknife instead! It also ends with some suggestions for going beyond Autism Awareness into Autism Action. Please do forward it to anyone who needs to read it. Here's a teaser:
...once you've settled in, you start to realize how cool Yellowknife can be. You start to see that Yellowknife is a crucible for the intrepid and the fearless, for people like the Ice Road Truckers who brave long and grueling journeys to provide subarctic children with the supplies and services they need. You find that, as in San Francisco, people come to Yellowknife from all over the world. 
How are you bringing attention to Autism Awareness day? I'm taking a numerical approach:
  • 4 = hours of sleep
  • 3 = number of deadlines to hit by 2 pm
  • 2 = number of children home on spring break
  • 1 = number of those children who have autism
Leo will spread autism awareness from morning 'til night, as he does almost every day of his life. He'll do it while we go shopping for supplies for tomorrow's all-family road trip to San Diego. He'll do it while we have lunch at his favorite restaurant. While it's nice to have a day dedicated to autism awareness, it's not as though our family and the people we encounter every day are unaware of it. But I'm hoping the Welcome to Yellowknife essay can help people who don't live in autism households be a bit more aware of what autism means.


  1. Hi! I just read your essay on BlogHer and think it is just wonderful! You are so right- having a child with autism isn't a simple process of getting acclimated to a new culture (like the lovely Holland essay) or learning a new language. Having a child with autism is a bitter/beautiful battle, each and every day. Seeing the beautiful Northern Lights doesn't change the fact it is negative 50 degrees. But we don't pretend it isn't cold, do we? We add another layer, keep fighting the cold, and fiercely look for ways to make our babies warmer.

    Thank you so much for this essay :)

    mother to twins with autism

  2. Kristen, thank you for this lovely comment! I am going to repost it to the original BlogHer essay comments, hope that's okay.

    Thank you so much for reading, for getting it, and for being a willing participant in this bitter/beautiful battle.


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