Feb 18, 2013 0 Share

Letting the Cat Out of the Bag

A Siamese cat standing on a desk in front of a laptop.

While on a recent book store visit with my daughter, I found myself wandering over to the ever-growing “autism” section. Well, to be honest, autism does not have a section in its own right, but it does take up the lion’s share of the parenting section. As I browsed, I was surprised to see a picture book entitled “All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome by Kathy Hoopmann. I read the book and greatly appreciated its intent, which is to explain AS in terms that a first grader might understand.

When it comes to my son, it is my hope that the general population will understand him as he begins to face the world on his own. “All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome” is a literal illustration of the basic understanding I’m looking for. As a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, it’s hard to imagine not knowing the basics of what autism is, or even not being able to armchair diagnose from a distance of 50 feet. I’m reminded of being in Target one evening and hearing a child in the next aisle over. I knew without even laying eyes on the boy that he was on the spectrum. ‘Lo and behold, I rounded the corner, and it was a mom from Cameron’s school with her son whom I’d never met, but had heard much about. While my ASD detector may be finely tuned, I tend to forget that there are people out there for whom autism is still a great unknown. Lucky them! They are an endangered species, I’m afraid.

I admit, when I think of Cameron out in the community on his own and one of his tics or quirks surfaces, I assume that for the most part, people will look at him and knowingly nod their heads. They will recognize his behaviors as something familiar. They will have seen similar behaviors at Thanksgiving dinner at their cousin’s home, or will be reminded of the bagger at their favorite grocery store. But I have to remind myself that I may be overestimating the acceptance of the general population. I’m reminded of the (insert your favorite expletive representing a donkey’s behind here) that said “What a brat!” when 4-year-old Cameron was having a tantrum in the grocery store. Could there really be ignorance like that still out there today? Sadly, I know the answer is yes.

So I’m glad to have found “All Cats have Asperger Syndrome.” I only wish it wasn’t tucked away in the parenting section. It would be great to find this book in the picture book section. And in the cat section. And in the required reading section. And in the education section. Everyone needs to know about autism. It’s not an excuse. It’s a reality. I realize that I’m preaching to the choir. I doubt there are many readers of Autism After 16 that couldn’t spot that child in Target as I did. But maybe this revelation of mine could serve as a reminder that strength in numbers may not be strong enough. More diagnoses doesn’t equate to more understanding.