The Political and the Personal
You can't help but notice that April is Autism Awareness Month. We're urged by Autism Speaks to “light it up blue” in support. My Facebook and email accounts are flooded with posts and memes calling for not only awareness, but acceptance. “Always Unique Totally Intelligent Sometimes Mysterious,” reads one, set against a beautiful rainbow of color. “Autism is not a tragedy. Ignorance is a tragedy,” reads another. “Autism: Being different can be a good thing!” Maybe my favorite is “Autism is not a processing error. It's a different operating system!”
Of course, I agree with the sentiments. Awareness and more acceptance for those on the spectrum are, undoubtedly, a good thing. Certainly could have helped our family on public outings when Reilly was younger! How many times did I fail to anticipate or head off the thing that caused a meltdown in public? Probably as many times as I succeeded, but I only remember the times I failed. And, every time, I left the scene angry—at my kid, at the glowering (judging) member of the public, at myself for failing. Some acceptance and empathy would have gone a long way in those days. To be sure, we still have the occasional public “scenes,” though they are fewer and farther between.
Personal acceptance is important, too. It's what I've had to work on forever. I have said that God gave me kids to teach me patience, and I'm not learning it fast enough! I tend to be a fixer, and get easily frustrated when I can't. And I have a tendency to attribute a situation or problem to Reilly's disability, when it's really fairly normal for his age, or his gender. Friends call me on that one all the time, giving me a much-needed reality check.
The sentiment I see on social media that I do have trouble with, though, is the one that says, “My child has autism, and I wouldn't change him/her for the world!” That one makes me cranky. It takes acceptance to a new level. Of course, I adore my son, though I could live with fewer challenges, for him and for our family. Would I prefer that he be “neurotypical”? Definitely, although to be sure, I would miss some of his quirks. I love and accept him the way he is (most of the time), but if I could change him, I would.
Yet, I'm still learning the patience lesson, over and over again. Reilly is growing and maturing in ways I couldn't have foreseen a few years ago. He might not be doing it on my schedule, but he's getting there. His journey to independence is harder than I would wish for him, but he's making progress. He has a girlfriend—yay/yikes! He's taking a college-credit course, and texted me that he got a B- on the midterm. He was ecstatic, and we cheered! He's talking about taking driver's ed. Again, yay/yikes! And there's the previously reported summer job that he got on his own.
So maybe, we should treat people on the autism spectrum the way we do everyone else. They have strengths and weaknesses. We celebrate their strengths and try to help them with their weaknesses.
And when I'm frustrated, maybe I can remember, in the words of another popular meme making the rounds: “My kid is au-some!”