April is Autism awareness month, but for those of us who live with someone on the spectrum we are quite aware of Autism everyday. It has changed our lives. More importantly it has changed our perspective. You see, when you have a child on the spectrum in order to understand them you have to understand their perspective. They experience the world in a different way. Once you begin to understand, accept and enter their world the connection with your child will begin to grow. Not everyone who tries is able to make that connection, but for those who the child lets in it’s a beautiful amazing experience.
One of the early signs of Autism was the way our son connected (or didn’t) with other people. He met all his development milestones and was very verbal, but around ages two and three it was clear his connection with people was different from his peers. If he didn’t like someone or didn’t have a connection with them then they just didn’t exist in his world. He would not acknowledge or respond to them. This made for some awkward moments at church and school, but really began to hurt the feelings of people who we were close to. The more aware of Autism we became the better we were at guiding him through these social situations. We were also able to educate our family and friends on how to better interact with our son.
I am proud of the awareness we have created in our extended family and what a difference it has made for our son’s life and the lives of those who get him. My dad, also known as Papa, is one example. My dad isn’t exactly a kid person and also believes kids should do what their told without argument or explanation. Patience with young children hasn’t been his strong suit. My mom and I could see dad getting frustrated with my son in a few different situations and could see my son starting to pull away. Dad didn’t fully understand or maybe even accept that Gabe was Autistic and all that meant. My mom began sharing some books and other literature with my dad and he was able to see my son in the description of these books. His perspective was changing and his awareness was expanding. He understood we could not discipline my son to “act right”. We could not strong-arm to quit certain behaviors. Dad began to interact differently with Gabe. Thus, connection begin to grow and my son let him in.
I dare say Papa is one of my son’s favorite people. There is nothing Papa can’t fix (the chain on the bicycle), build (stilts) or rig up (a zip line through the trees, yes he did). They go for walks in the” forest” (my parents live in the country) and search for Bigfoot. They use the metal detector my dad got Gabe for Christmas and go on treasure hunts. Dad even buried a few silver dollars around the yard to add a bit more excitement on their quest. This spring we have been working on garden plans for my parents house and ours. Dad gets it and his pay off is an amazing relationship with his grandson he wouldn’t have had other wise.
One more testimony to awareness. One of my moms best friends, who I have known all my life, has a quick temper at times. There were a few instances she had a sharp tongue Gabe. He didn’t respond to her. She wasn’t part of his inner circle, not because she was stranger but because she didn’t get it. Mom and I both talked to her and noticed her loosening up with him. She started to ask him more questions and give fewer instructions. Overt time their relationship has improved and she gets it. She gets it so much that she has said it has changed her perspective of others. In the past if she were out and saw a kid throwing a fit or a mother struggling to manage a difficult situation she would give those judging looks we are all to familiar with. She would think that child needs a spanking and that parents needs to get control. Now she is more aware. She now looks at that child and mother and knows there may be much more going on. Maybe the mother is doing the best she can and perhaps the child is too.
Autism awareness spreads through education and experience. My experience has forced me to be educated about Autism. This awareness has spread to our family and friends. Once you get it, it changes your perspective. If you’re lucky enough, you just might get to have this beautiful amazing experience for yourself.