April is Autism Awareness Month!

Since it is Autism Awareness month, I just can't keep myself from offering up an autism related post.
My passion for people with autism developed when Michael was diagnosed.  My passion for kids with special needs has been life-long.

Before Michael was born, I thought autism would be the worst thing that could ever happen.  I think about random stuff like this.  I specifically prayed all through my pregnancy that my child would be genius smart and not have autism.  I was always certain that I would have a child with special needs.  I thought a child with autism could never love me back.  I was so wrong.

Living with someone affected by autism has stretched the Doc and I in many areas of our lives.  It has not been easy.  But living with autism has taught us the joy of life from a whole new perspective.  To be honest, I wouldn't trade a thing about Michael.

What I never realized about autism is this: our biggest challenge has been how other people respond to our son's behaviors.  Who knew? I thought it would be the actual behaviors.

Because people affected by autism do not walk around wearing signs on their forehead labeling them as such, people tend to assume and judge.  STOP IT.  There is never a need to offer your unpleasant stare, your unappreciated ugly comment or any other such rudeness under any circumstance.  Sure, we all judge - being the perfect parents that we are.  But you don't know the other family's story so you can help or you can butt out.  You can not look at a child and automatically know the inner workings of their brain.  I've tried.
What can you do?
Do you know someone who has a child with autism?  Chances are that you do.  
Show an interest in how things are going.  Take your cues from your friend.  They may want to talk about it, they may not.  They will appreciate your genuine interest.  They will also appreciate you keeping their information in confidence.  You wouldn't believe how many friends were told about Michael's diagnosis and never said a word to us about it since.
Offer to babysit.  You might even need to babysit at their house.  Parents of spectrum kids don't tend to get out much without their kids.  Send them to dinner without the kids.
Church is a challenge for many believers.  Unlike school, other activities as well as church are not designed to accommodate differences.  Many give up and quit attending.  If this is the case, see how you can help.  Can you be a buddy for their kiddo in Sunday School?
Encourage your kids to be friendly to all of their peers.  You know that kid you tell your kids to stay away from?  Sometimes that is the kid with autism.  Always, that is the kid who needs friends.  Is there another way to solve the issue?  Talk to the teacher about how to handle the situation.  When you tell your kid to stay away, they tell their friends.  Their friends stay away too.  Yuck.  This is a bad situation made worse.  Try other things first.  Because of privacy laws, you won't know specific issues related to that student unless their parents tell you.
If a parent is struggling with a child having a tantrum, you can offer to help.  Chances are you will be turned down.  I can't tell you how many parents have suffered through rude stares and ugly statements from people passing by.  If you don't want to get involved then don't look.  I was so proud of my neighbor who saw an incident at Disney recently and asked if she could help by holding stuff for the dad who had his hands full when his preteen son started to fall apart.  She was amazed at how people stared and didn't offer help.

What not to say?  Here are tidbits from friends, family & teachers that cause me to have my own personal meltdown (when you aren't looking).
All kids do that.  When dealing with the obsessions and meltdowns of autism, you learn very quickly that this is different.  It really is.  I am quite familiar with how kids are, thank you.
At least he doesn't have cancer.  Well, yes - there is that.  This is a statement I heard a few times from people who wanted me to see the bright side.  But when I found out my child had autism, I knew that this was a lifelong developmental disorder and his future could look a lot different from that "typical" child I was planning on.  I need time to wrap my mind around this.  An autism diagnosis sends parents through a true grieving cycle similar to mourning the loss of a loved one.  They need to work through the stages.
If you were more consistent, this wouldn't be a problem.  For me, specifically, this was a crappy thing to say.  My kiddo was so adapted to routine that everything in our lives was consistent.  Stubbornness and routine prevail with this momma.  A child who is neurologically different does not always learn at the same pace or in the same ways as a typical child.  My child has autism.  His behavior isn't a result of poor parenting.  To imply that it is, that's just insulting.

Living with autism can sometimes make you feel like you live in a pressure cooker.  Living with autism can also show you the amazing blessing that life has to offer. You don't take things for granted that you might have before.

How about we all follow the golden rule and love one another.  Give others a bit of grace.
Be a good friend to someone with autism or a parent of someone with autism.  They could use one.

I would love to hear your questions and comments.  Maybe you even have something helpful to add.

For more information, I've included a couple of links.
My favorite national autism site is this one.
Here in Tulsa, we have a wonderful non-profit called the Autism Center of Tulsa (ACT).  We are currently gearing up for our 5th Annual Ready, Set, Run! fundraiser.

Did you know that Saturday is "Wear Blue for Autism Awareness Day?"
I hope you'll wear a bit of blue for us.

Mrs. Priss

who is wearing blue tomorrow...

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