Few Really Understand Autism’s Impact

This post originally appeared in the Nordonia Hills News Leader

April was autism awareness month. Although most people know about autism, few really understand its impact. A lot of work still needs to be done to make people more aware of children and adults who are autistic, and the struggles they and their families have with the disability.

I have an 18-year-old son, Ronnie, who is autistic. He was diagnosed at about the age of 2. Ronnie exhibited no signs of autism until about 18 months of age. Then one day he quit making eye contact, and would make strange and repetitive noises. It was like my child was stolen by a thief in the night.

The doctors did not give us a good prognosis when Ronnie was diagnosed. I remember a child development graph the doctor showed us. It looked more like a flat line than a typical developmental graph for children.

More worrisome than the graph was Ronnie’s behavior. Ronnie was having constant tantrums where he would bite, kick and scream. He also showed very little ability to love, as most of us understand love between a parent and child.

There were not many hugs or gestures of affection.

I remember feeling hopeless for him. Until one day when I met a person who actually knew about autism. She explained to me that autistic people’s brains light up on scans when they are shown pictures of their families, and that my son does love, he just does not know how to show it. In his world, we are all speaking a foreign language and he is frustrated because he does not understand us, and we do not understand him.

He has anxiety because noises sound different to him. However, she also said that it would be important to make him do all of the things that we do, to the best of his ability, because he must live in our world, and that we cannot live in his.

I am proud to say that my son, although he has language difficulties and continues to struggle with his disability, is a gentle young man who works hard and enjoys his life.

He goes to school, is on a swim team and has a job. I know that Ronnie loves his family, even though he may not be able to show it in a traditional way. I am thankful each day that Ronnie is a part of my life.

I will share a few things that I have learned in the last 18 years of raising my son. Autistic kids are beautiful; moms and dads should not be made to feel like bad parents when their autistic children misbehave, it is part of the disability; people should not stare when an autistic person is doing something weird, such as staring at their hand or making sounds, because it is part of living with autism; and most importantly, autistic people can do some amazing things, so it is important that we include them.

I ask that we remember those with autism and other special needs throughout the year. It is my hope that we are not only aware but accepting of people with differences.

Photo credit: @Becky Wetherington on flickr (under creative commons)

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