What is Autism exactly? That’s a good question! If you do an internet search for “autism” you will be able to find all sorts of definitions and explanations of autism. However, I am not going to give you a medical definition of autism because I am not a doctor or a therapist. I am a mom. I am a mom of two boys on the autism spectrum. They are both high functioning but they are still autistic. There are days that I look at autism and I can see the unique and beautiful side of it. Then there are other days that I can only see the negative side of autism. I decided to make up a list of how I perceive autism because today was one of those negative days. I need to not only see the negative side of autism but I also need to take a look at the positive side of it to remind myself of how unique and wonderful my boys are.
Autism is a tantrum in a child who appears to be too old for that type of tantrum
Autism is back-talking because of sensory overload or lack of empathy or understanding of feelings
Autism is an obsession on a particular item such as engineering or animals
Autism is learning everything there is to know about your obsession and sharing that knowledge with others
Autism is sitting in the back of the Church because the echo sounds hurt your ears
Autism is being a child who is completely comfortable addressing a room full of adults
Autism is a way of thinking and processing life that is different from others
Autism is finding social situations extremely difficult to maneuver
Autism is liking the same limited foods and their tastes and textures
Autism is seeing the world from a very literal viewpoint
Autism is being judged because you look “normal”
Autism is being unable to read facial expressions
Autism is being unable to sit still
Autism is being able to be ultra-creative and imaginative
Autism is being very matter-of-fact
Autism is being able to only handle one thing at a time
Autism is needing reassurance in social situations
Autism is taking time during transitions from one activity to the next
Autism is helping your parents to see things in a different light
Autism is having structured routines
Autism is having a hard time understanding humor and jokes
Autism is having no tags on the back of your shirts or having pants with stiff fabric
Autism is making a big deal out of milestones that others may take for granted
Autism is our life. We really have not known any other way. We know that our ways are different and sometimes, as a parent, that’s difficult. I don’t necessarily want my children to be different, yet, they are. I don’t really want to raise my child differently than other children are being raised but I do raise them differently because my children perceive the world so much more differently than other children. They still participate in Cub Scouts and attend school but they don’t much like to play sports. It takes them awhile to fit into groups at the playground. They may not get your joke and their jokes may not make any sense, even if they find them hysterical themselves. Sometimes we receive strange looks when we are at a new Church while we are on vacation and the ushers keep trying to seat us in a half-empty Church yet we keep letting them know that we are fine standing in the back. We are just proud that we are finally able to actually sit inside the main part of the Church! It’s sometimes hard to watch other children hit their milestones yet yours are still struggling. It’s just all part of autism.
I am learning to accept that our family does things differently because we are an autistic family and our children perceive the world differently. I am learning that, because of those differences, others tend to notice us. I try to take these situations and turn them into teaching moments to education others about autism. Sometimes I really do want to just go someplace and just blend in with everybody else but that very rarely happens. I am learning to accept that we are an autistic family and I now take the opportunity to educate others about autism whenever I can so that they too can have a better understanding of autism.
I will never forget one morning when we were at Church and a teaching moment presented itself. We were out of town for the weekend so we attended the local Catholic church. We stood in the back of the Church in the small vestibule because that Church has a very large echo to it even though it’s a small sized Church. That echo is too much for our boys. When the usher tried to seat us we explained that the boys have autism and we explained about the echo. In the past that used to bother me that I even had to explain anything at all. I always felt like we had to defend our choice to stand in the back. Now I look at it as a teaching moment to make others more aware of autism. The usher was very nice about it and said no problem and even asked if we would like a couple of folding chairs. A little later a lady came over to me. She had also been standing in the vestibule area and overheard my conversation with the usher. She thanked me for taking the time to make the usher aware of autism so that he understood why we were standing in the back vestibule and how the echo affected our boys. My guess is that her life must be somehow affected by autism too.
Autism is so many different things to so many different people. The list above is just a small sample of what autism is and how it affects our little family. What is autism to you?