April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day, and my son is part of the 1 in 68 children living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). He struggles with verbal and non-verbal communication, he has intense reactions related to his senses, and he can often be found darting away at lightning speed or running in circles flapping his arms. We struggle both at home and just about everywhere we go. Even a simple trip somewhere that has stairs can result in a battle, because all he wants to do is go up and down for hours. You see, when my son is engrossed in a repetitive behavior, he can’t stop easily. And I can’t stop him either (at least not without a meltdown that could last for hours).
My day is spent planning out how I can keep him on schedule and how to transition him to the next thing. We have really great days, and then we have days that seem to have no end in sight. On those awful days, I (and other parents like me) need you to care about Autism Spectrum Disorder. We need you to be understanding and patient, because we’re doing the best we can with an impossibly hard situation.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
ASD is a neurological and developmental disorder that affects all races, genders, and socioeconomic groups. The word “spectrum” refers to the wide variations of symptoms and their severity. ASD affects the way a person socializes and how they perceive people, often causing problems with communication and social interactions. It usually includes patterns of repetitive or limited behaviors. A singular cause for ASD has not been identified and there is no cure. With such variation in the spectrum, there are often many misconceptions about autism. And I want to address a few of those misconceptions right now.
Myth #1 ~ People with Autism are Anti-Social & Don’t Want Friends
This couldn’t be farther from the truth. My son loves people! Persons with ASD absolutely want friends, but they generally lack the social skills to engage other people. Their brain has difficulty processing and responding to another person saying “Hi,” so it often becomes a challenging exchange. Therefore, communicating their desire for relationships is difficult without knowing how. The reality is that people with autism perceive and express emotions very differently and often can’t detect tone or body language. Teach your children that sometimes other kids need help making friends. Encourage them to interact with children who are playing by themselves or appear to be shy. Be inclusive!
Myth #2 ~ All People with Autism are the Same
No two people are the same with or without autism, that’s a fact. It is called Autism Spectrum Disorder because of the wide range and variety of symptoms in each individual. There’s a popular saying that goes, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” If you know a child with autism, talk to their parents about it. Every person with autism has a unique way of interacting with the world, so ask for guidance and be supportive.
Myth #3 ~ Autism Can be Outgrown or Cured
Nope. With treatment, the symptoms of autism can be managed better and can become undetectable. However, there is no cure. It’s a life-long condition, and even if there was a “cure,” it would probably be quite controversial. While some people absolutely want to be rid of autism, others believe it gives them a unique and valuable perspective of the world.
We attend therapy six times a week, where countless hours are spent reinforcing behaviors. Sometimes we have success, but often we have to adapt our methods until we find something that works. It’s always changing, so your ability to be flexible when we cannot be flexible is so valuable.
Why You Need to Care
Being a parent is hard, no debate necessary. Raising a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder is a whole different kind of hard that requires a lot of extra work. Between creating tools to help with daily tasks and constant therapy, I don’t have time for much else. Friends are hard to keep these days, but I need them more than ever. Be patient with your friends and family members who have children with autism. You may not understand what they are going through or how you can help, but your support means EVERYTHING.