“Mommy, can you have a little autism?” my youngest son Zach asks, all while sitting at our kitchen table twirling a giant plastic T-Rex around by its tail, a toy I am certain will soon end up landing on my face.
I think quickly about how I want to respond to this, and I say “Sure honey, some people with autism can talk just like you do”, because the issue Zach keeps coming back to over and over is will my eldest son with moderate autism ever talk.
Apparently this satisfies my boy, because he forgets I’ve just asked him not to fling that huge, disturbingly life-like creature in my general direction. This time, the outcome for his “pet” is not so wonderful.
Cleary, just like in the Jurassic Period, dinosaurs still can’t fly.
After I’ve rescued his friend from the floor (and applied no less than two Elmo band-aids to his “wounds”), Zach gets down from his seat, and decides to build a fort for his dinosaur family in the living room.
I begin washing up the detritus of ham and gluten-free/dairy-free oreos, and as so often happens, my mind begins to wander (so far, it’s always returned). As soapy suds wash away the evidence of a meal consumed, I think about how far Zach has come in his own understanding of autism.
Initially, our inquiries as to what he thought about it were met with complete silence. Now, he talks about it all the time, from discussing Justin’s actions with replaying the same scene over and over on his DVD (“that’s the autism, mom”), to the fact that he said “thank you” to Zachary the other day on his iPad (“Justin DOES talk!”). My boy is truly aware of autism in his smaller world, and within the larger confines of the world around us too.
And as I look around, at least within the community in which we live, everybody else seems to be aware as well.
I have to say however that most of what I see around us transcends awareness, has in fact moved past even simple “tolerance”, has even begun to dabble in the waters of true acceptance. I see evidence of this evolution at the movie theater, where a mom with six young girls in tow graciously let me jump ahead of her in the popcorn line, because she could see how anxious Justin was for his carb fix.
I witness this acceptance in the children of my neighbors, all of whom always emit a warm greeting for my eldest son, and some of whom continue to ask if he’d like to shoot a basket with them (Justin will eternally decline).
I’ve had a broad view of our little corner of the world’s take on autism as I’ve handed out fliers for my play, with nary a single store-owner registering anything but support as I've described my family, and explained my desire to support POAC Autism Services with my writing.
Most importantly, I’ve registered this acceptance of Justin’s differences by his neurotypical peers, during our trips to stores, bowling alleys (he’s quite good now), and of course, his perennial favorite, our local boardwalk.
I will admit, sometimes his loud vocalizations and somewhat staggered gait are met with averted eyes. More often than not however, he receives a genuine smile, one which usually is shared with me as well. Sometimes, I even get a heartfelt teen-age comment of “he’s so cute!”.
Which of course, he is.
I feel the world has evolved so much since the dark days of Justin’s diagnosis almost eight years ago, yet of course, we have new roads to forge, more prejudices to destroy. What I continue to notice however, the critical point that stirs up so much hope for me, is the constant commitment by those in the autism community to put aside our differences, and instead do our part in raising awareness about our incredible kids.
From requests on Facebook to unite ourselves in our passion to improve our kids' lives, to illuminating our homes in blue for April’s Autism Awareness Month, to fighting and demanding legislation be put through for the next generation, I see everyone doing their part. And I watch as our community conducts these actions in far more harmony than I’ve ever witnessed before.
And finally, even most importantly perhaps, I see so many people not directly touched by autism trying to lift our lives just a little bit, and do their part by displaying compassion, not condescension.
This Sunday, April 2nd, is the fifth World Autism Awareness Day. My husband and I will be turning our porchlight blue, in honor of the commemorated day, the month, and of course, all of our beautiful and unique children. Acquiring a light bulb sporting a filament that will bathe our home in blue is a simple act, a brief trip to Walmart or Target, a quick twist of a wrist to install.
If you’d like to show your support, it’s an easy way to let our community know that you care.
And of course, where my kids are concerned, I’ll always gladly accept those smiles too.
As always, thank you for your support!