April is a month that brings mixed emotions for me. It is the month when many want to celebrate and accept autism.
A strong part of me just wants to hide.
Our family lives with autism every day. We know all of the highs and lows. We want nothing more than to help spread acceptance and awareness about autism but, at the same time, we don’t always want to be seen or to answer any questions.
However, it is nice to have a month when those of us who live with autism every day can feel a little more supported and help educate those who aren't in the know. Because it can be a little lonely and a little overwhelming at times.
What can you do to help? I'd say start with talking to the children in your life — those who aren't on the spectrum — about autism and how to better understand and accept their friends, schoolmates, and family members who are on the spectrum.
Let them know that:
- All of our brains work differently. Just because kids with autism might not learn the same way does not mean they can’t learn.
- You may not know by looking at a child that they have autism. There is no “one look.”
- Many kids with autism are concrete thinkers. Saying to our son with autism: “If you eat all those french fries, you will turn into a potato” is confusing to him. He thinks he will actually turn into a potato and does not understand why or how.
- Language is tough for many kids with autism. Some people with autism do not speak at all. Many use their hands or even iPads to help them communicate.
- Autistic kids can be really good at some things! Our son loves video games. Another friend’s son loves to play tag. There can be a common bond! Try to find it to find a connection and be a friend.
- Many kids with autism may not look at you when you talk, but they do hear you. Be patient, our kids do want to be your friend.
- It is easy to walk away and think, “that kid is weird.” Be the one who wants to make a difference. We ALL do weird things. Look around at your “typical” friends – they have quirky things they do too!
- If everyone is not laughing, it may not be funny. Don’t be the one to laugh AT. Instead, laugh WITH!
As parents of a child with autism, we are scared. We also struggle with guilt in a lot of what we do.
With acceptance comes some peace. As special needs parents, we truly are on a journey with no real answers.
But with your help, we are getting one step closer to what we are trying for – more acceptance, every day.
It is not just our children who yearn for acceptance. We, their parents, also have more moments of the unknown than known.