Remember when holidays worthy of note only included 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas/Hanukkah, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day? It seems every day now is some sort of national celebration of one thing or another. As I write this, April 2nd, it is National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day. Just a few days earlier on March 31st people celebrated National Crayon Day. Seriously. We celebrate crayons now. Some causes get more than a day, like Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Black History Month.
April is Autism Awareness Month. Merriam-Webster defines aware as “concerned and well-informed about a particular situation or development.” That makes sense. When my now fifteen-year-old son was four, he was diagnosed with autism. Since then, I have been concerned for his future and done everything I can to become well-informed about his condition.
I don’t participate in walks. I don’t “light it up blue” with colored light bulbs in my porch lamps. I don’t participate in fundraisers to support autism community organizations. I am not any less aware than those who do.
When I see my son struggle to remember how to spell his name while peers his age are reading novels, I am aware. When he looks at the one dollar bill, 2 quarters, and three pennies he has and tells me proudly that he has 6 monies, I am aware. Spending 2 1/2 hours a week at a local children’s hospital for speech and occupational therapy, I am aware. When a size 6 shoe aimed for my head sails from the back of my van and smacks into my windshield instead – while I am driving – I am very aware. When I am changing the split gauze around his G-tube that we feed him through because he decided to stop eating on his own a year ago, I am aware. And when he is in a full-blown meltdown in aisle 6 at the grocery store and all eyes are on me, I am definitely aware. I could go on. Autism. You can’t walk over it. You can’t walk under it. You can’t walk around it.
The good news is that with the trials and hardships that are autism, there are also blessings and life lessons that can only be learned from walking through it. And of those too, I am aware. When my daughter escorts her little brother to his first school dance as “his date,” I am aware that she has compassion beyond her years. When my husband’s co-workers take up a collection to help us pay for unforeseen medical expenses, I am aware of the humility we are supposed to exhibit. When my adult son volunteers his Saturdays to coach for a special needs baseball team, I am aware that not all “millenials” are self-focused. When a friend volunteers to babysit during a rough patch with my son just so I can go out for a cup of coffee or a pedicure, I am aware of grace. When I am sitting in his school’s parent support group meeting, I am aware of community and camaraderie. When a neighbor cooks us dinner one evening, I am aware of the goodness all around us. When a man in the parking lot helps me load my groceries into the van while my son is kicking and screaming, I am aware of the kindness of strangers.
As you can see, I am more aware of the blessings and life lessons learned from autism than I am the trials and hardships of the disorder. That’s the way it should be, no matter what our adversities are. We all have them. They are different for each of us. No matter what they are, it’s about perspective. The key is to see life from someone else’s every now and then.
So in this month when we are all to be made more aware of autism, a disorder that affects 1 in 35 children, how can you be more aware when it may not affect you or someone you love personally? Be aware that, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, more children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes, and cancer combined. Be aware that autism costs the nation over $238 billion per year, a figure expected to significantly increase in the next decade.
On a more intimate level, when you see a mom struggling to hold onto a child whose main objective is to loosen her grip with his teeth while emitting a high-pitched squeal, don’t stare at her and nod your head in disapproval of her mothering skills. Be aware that she may actually need a real hand…or two. Be aware that your advice on discipline techniques that worked with your own children is not warranted, nor wanted. Be aware that a kind word, helping hand, or encouraging hug – even from a stranger – can make a monumental difference in someone’s day. Be aware that it is not always the temper tantrum of a spoiled child. Be aware that there is always more to every situation you witness and extend whatever grace you can, even if it is only in the form of pretending not to notice.
Will being more aware cure autism and make the need for an entire month to recognize it obsolete. No. It will however give you a new perspective, change someone else’s, and make you more aware of the diversities and challenges of others around you. And it seems we could all use a little of that in the world we live in these days.
If you would like to order Rainbow Colored Grass on Our Side of The Fence, please go to www.rainbowcoloredgrass.com, or you may order this in kindle on amazon.com. This book is the raw transparency of a family’s journey through the struggle of autism.