Article first published as What Autism Means for Me on Technorati.
This month is Autism Awareness Month. All month organizations will be trying to bring the awareness of Autism and it's impact on families to the forefront of all who care to listen. It's a cause that is near and dear to my heart, having now both children on the Spectrum.
So what is Autism? It's a disorder, and in ever-deepening levels. First, it's a disorder of the brain that causes social dysfunction, speech delays, and odd, repetitive behaviors. It's a disorder in that parents need to spend more time focusing on their child on the Spectrum to help them learn and keep up with their peers. It's a disorder that changes family dynamics for siblings of a child with Autism as their parents spend more time with the child on the Spectrum than with them. It's a disorder that places a burden on school districts to provide classes that focus on the Autism Spectrum disorder. It's a disorder that affects a family's choice of school districts, places of worship, daily routines, places of employment, and even the choice of where to live. Everything seems to revolve around this disorder.
The United States Center for Disease Control has increased the estimate of Autism occurance in the United States to 1 in 88 children. It used to be 1 in 150 when my son was first diagnosed, and then went up to 1 in 110. There are cries of an epidemic, calls for funding to find a "cure", rallies and walks to raise funds in order to help these children. Governments are being tasked with finding ways to fund therapies to intervene as early as possible in order to increase the chances of a child on the Spectrum to contribute positively to society. Companies are being established that use the unique abilities of many adults with Autism in order to help them take care of themselves. Political candidates, talk show hosts, researchers, and parents are doing everything they can to bring awareness to their particular point of view of this mysterious condition.
So what is Autism? For me, Autism is an older son that, at 7, remains simply on the cusp of speaking but not quite there. Yet he can type on the computer, use an iPad without difficulty, write, read, and now draw faces and stick figures. Autism is a boy who will do everything himself if he can, yet has trouble with some basic functions like using the bathroom. Autism is a son who has an amazing mechanical sense, able to take toys and, well vaccuums apart, and put them back together again (and they work).
Autism is a younger son, 3, who speaks in memorized phrases instead of words. A son who can also type, has taught himself adding and subtracting for the most part, excellent at matching objects and a love of reading. Autism is a son who is happy to see you one minute, and then frustrated that you don't understand his needs immediately.
Autism is a wife who is tired after getting up early with a son who had trouble sleeping, excited to learn what she can to help her children, and willing to accept conditions as they are and move on. Autism is a family who, in a true stoic sense, look to help in anyway they can while understanding the limitations we as a family have.
Autism is getting up at 1:30 AM and putting on old Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies to quite down a now wide awake 3 year old while trying to snooze on the couch. Autism is making time to talk with my sons' teachers to discuss what they have been doing in class what what needs to happen at home to support their efforts. Autism is accepting that my sons will most likely never be sports stars, popular at school, or accepted by their peers when they are mainstreamed. Autism is accepting the heartache that will come when my children will be bullied at school because they are different.
Autism is coming home from a long day at work, exhausted, and finding two children bouncing off the walls full of energy, giggling and waiting for a good tickle session. It's missing movies that you would be excited to see because you want to put your children's needs first. Autism, to me, means being thankful for the support and love of those around you, even when you can't seem to find the words to thank them personally.
If you have a child with Autism, perhaps you can relate. If you don't, it's hard to explain what is so different about the experience than raising neurotypical children. It's difficult to say, as I do not have any neurotypical children. But I love both my kids, and wouldn't have it any other way.