What is Autism?
It surprises me that in 2014 that I still get asked this question on a somewhat frequent basis. I guess part of it is that I live the life and therefore have researched it extensively (for over 5 yrs) which is why I'm pretty clear what Autism is but what saddens me is how much is seriously unknown still by the general public. This is a spectrum that affects as many as 1 in 50 kids (depends on WHO you ask), how is it that so many know so little?
As I've come to know being Mr.B's (Unique kid extraordinaire) Momma is that when something like a diagnosis takes you off guard you learn about it. When our oldest son Torin was (finally) diagnosed with Autism five years ago I threw myself into learning all I could about it. Yes, I'd heard of it before but I didn't really 'know' much about it.
So what IS Autism??
- 1.a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts
Clear as mud right??
The biggest thing that you need to know about Autism is this:
"If you've met one child with Autism then, you've met ONE child with Autism."
Autism is called a 'Spectrum Disorder' because no two children present with all of the same issues/symptoms/etc. The Spectrum actually covers off several different Disorders and Autism is only one of those disorders.
The appearance of Autism diagnosed in your child is as unique as the child diagnosed.
Is there such a thing as 'high functioning Autism'? I suppose that it makes people feel better to call a child 'high functioning' but if I drive a car and you don't does that make me a higher functioning person then you? I'm not a fan of the term, my child is just a 'functioning' child, that's it. Yes, there are some children/adults that have severely disabling Autism but to call my child higher functioning then theirs is just wrong in my opinion. Their child is also a functioning child, they just do it in the way the can and need to.
So how can I possibly learn more about it then if it looks different in each individual diagnosed with it??? What you need to learn (or strengthen what you already know) is that ACCEPTANCE is the key to Autism.
You don't need to know what all the possible presentations might be, you don't need to know how the diagnosis presents in each kid (that's for the parent's to know) but what we'd (the parents) like you to know is ACCEPTANCE.
Accept that our child might be a bit 'odd' or 'quirky' or want to talk about ceiling fans, elevators, phones, microwaves, etc. for hours on end.
Accept that our child might have a huge, in your face, meltdown in public (no we don't need to hear parenting advice from passerby's that think they know better).
Accept that while you might feel uncomfortable around our child, he is our child. He could have just as easily been your child. As parents we've had to accept that we created a child with a disorder (this isn't the forum to talk about self-blame but as a Mom with two special needs kiddos self-blame is huge) so we need you to support US in accepting our child. An Autism diagnosis can find out our true supporters in our lives pretty fast.
Accept that you might need to encourage, educate and foster compassion in your own 'typical' children about ours with special needs (all needs). Our children need friends too, they need love, compassion and encouragement, just as yours do.
Things that you might not want to say to the parent of a child with ASD:
Oh, he looks so normal! (???)
Are you sure? He doesn't look retarded. (please, PLEASE don't ever use that word)
Well, he must certainly be high functioning then (see above 'high functioning' comment)
Autism, what's his special skill?? (not all kids on the spectrum have prodigy potential!)
Yes, these are all things I've had said to me and more (none said in a or meant in a harsh way).
All three of my children are my pride and joy, it just so happens that two of them need a bit more assistance in life with some things!
Special Needs children are an amazing blessing and experience but as parents we often feel very alienated and alone in so many ways. Take a moment to even just say 'hello' to a parent of a SN child, they will appreciate it more then you know.