Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Autism Lives with Us

April is Autism Awareness month and tomorrow, April 2, is World Autism Awareness Day although everyday is autism awareness day in our world.

Two out of our three kids have a form of Autism and I firmly believe that if Mr. Awesome were tested he'd be right there with them. Even though two members of our family have the diagnosis we all live with Autism, we all think differently, do things differently and see the world differently because Autism lives with us.

At this point in our lives most people who know us casually may not notice Autism in our midst. It's quieter now. It's been tamed. It hides behind learned social graces and practiced politeness. It has been taught to think before it reacts and to trust more than it fears. Autism has matured in our family, it has been taught to speak the common language and we have learned to speak its language. We understand each other better now. We are on the same team ... but it hasn't always been this way.

We used to be afraid of Autism. We saw it as a thief and a murderer; it stole our happiness in the present and it killed our dreams for the future. It broke into our lives and brought chaos and stress into everyday moments. It turned our kids against us and made us a spectacle wherever we went. Autism, for a time, stole our hope, our dignity and our sense of order in the world. Autism held us hostage; we rarely went out or mixed with other families because it was unpredictable and hard to manage. Autism, we thought, had ruined our lives.

In the midst of the chaos, fear and sadness we saw a flicker of light. It was small and weak but it was there. This light would shine in quiet moments of puzzle solving, of nature walks and of hours spent watching the History Channel. The light grew stronger over time and we began to actively look for it, even in the midst of chaos. This light, this little blue light, was curious and quirky and intelligent. This light saw the world in a way that made mundane things seem new. It shone on buildings, on animals, on science and on history. And it shone on me.

I saw myself as a teacher, a nurse and an adventurer in the glow of this light. I saw myself as a translator and fear slayer in every shade of blue. And I saw myself braver, smarter and more loving than I thought possible when this light was with me. Then I saw that this light was Autism.

I began to recognize the strengths and beauty of Autism. And all the possibilities it brought with it. I stopped trying to make Autism behave the way I wanted it to and started listening to the language it spoke, seeing the way it moved through the world naturally. I looked for the benefits of Autism and coaxed it through its challenges. I encouraged my kids to get to know Autism personally and to understand what it is to each of them, individually. The more time I spent learning about Autism, the easier it got to teach it without containing it, to work with it rather than against it, to love it rather than hate it.

Autism is neither a thief nor a murder. It does not take from us. In many ways it has added to us. It has taught us to be more patient, more forgiving and more open minded than we were before it moved in. Autism has taught us to live acceptance and to love diversity. It has revealed that gifts and talents come in many shapes and packages. And despite its own rigid tendencies, Autism has taught us to expect the unexpected and to adapt to its little surprises quickly. Autism has taught us that different in not less and that there is more than one way to view the world. It has made us laugh and hope and dream. It has made us choose our battles and celebrate every victory. It has made us be deliberate with our words and honest in our intentions. Autism has made every moment a teachable moment.

Autism lives with us ... but its not who we are. We are a normal, laughing, teasing, learning, loving, growing, dreaming, forgiving, serving, mistake-making, messy, chaotic family. We are brilliant and we are ridiculous. We are brave and we are strong. We are bold and we are caring. We are Random. We are beautiful ... and Autism lives with us.

"Not everything that steps out of line, and thus 'abnormal', must necessarily be 'inferior'"
 - Hans Asperger (1938) 

**Check back all this month for posts about Living with Autism**

**Don't forget to wear blue on April 2 in support of World Autism Day!**

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