It’s the first day of April, the start of another Autism Awareness month for you, dear readers.
As for me, every month is filled with tons and tons of autism awareness. For example, how could I NOT be keenly aware of autism as my son flaps his way into the kitchen for his sixth (seventh?) pack of fruit snacks?
Yeah, I’m pretty aware of autism all the time these days.
This month you and I will be inundated with the sad, inspiring and heartwarming stories of what families (like mine) contend with daily as they deal with this mysterious and often devastating condition.
But it is not often addressed just how living with autism is often a silly, funny experience. I laugh at the crazy, hilarious things all my children do. Laughter gets me through every day of parenting a teenager, step-children, a kindergartener.
If I didn’t I might cry. A lot.
Parenting Dominic, my son with severe autism, is no different.
In the hope of changing the perception that you may have that only sadness abounds in the autistic world, and continuing your awareness of autism, this time, for the good, I give you my list of:
FIVE REASONS AUTISM HAS MADE ME SMILE
1) What was your child’s first word? Dada? Mama? Was he 9 months old and turned his sweet head toward you and said, uncertainly, “bye…?”.
Not Dominic. He didn’t say one word for the first 4 years of his life. There were speech therapists involved, teachers, all of us coaxing him to say something, anything as the years went by. There were fruit snacks and Thomas the Trains and pony rides leveraged to get him to utter something—anything.
But he was beautifully, mysteriously, stubbornly silent.
And then one day he was watching The Backyardigans and I was nearby, bemoaning my existence, pregnant with a fourth child and fat. As the name of the episode appeared on the screen, my silent blond boy was watching intently, flapping his little four year old hands in excitement.
As I thumbed through my article, “Soup and Sauerkraut Solutions: 5 days to a Svelte Post Baby You”, I heard something.
“Castaways” Dominic said, pitch perfect.
“WHAT DID YOU SAY??????” I sprang joyously from the couch, more spirited than any 7 month pregnant woman should.
But Dominic just flapped and watched Tasha and Tyrone twirl on the TV Screen. Like nothing happened.
But I had heard him, clear as day.
And as he bobbed his head and rocked back and forth to the music, I eyed him with new, suspicious eyes.
I was pretty sure the kid was holding out on me.
(Trust me, 6 years later, I can say…I was right).
2) Here is a list, not all encompassing but reflective of many years of a fine tuned palate, of the items my goat/son would stock in his own pantry of favorite snacking foods:
Toothpaste (he prefers “Mint” flavor to “Sparkle”)
Dry Noodles (Spaghetti and Elbows in particular)
Gum (to be chewed by the pack, then swallowed and passed, undigested)
Mouthwash (less as an oral health aid, more as a beverage)
Chapstick (any flavor)
Hand Sanitizer (any flavor…I mean really. How can that taste good? Sanitizer should not have a flavor, Dominic. A scent maybe, but a flavor? ).
Needless to say, that when these items go missing we check Dominic’s room first. And now we have a very creative and eleborate list of hiding places for the above that we do not wish to be absconded with—check my closet for fruit snacks and under my bed for the dry spaghetti.
3) Here is a list of Dominic’s YouTube search history, his favorite videos to watch daily, at this very moment:
The Elevator at The Henry Ford Museum (always a crowd pleaser)
The Elevator at Ikea (Is anyone else seeing a pattern?)
The Water Slide at Great Wolf Lodge (one of his favorite places to go)
And then, there’s this:
I don’t even know what to say. The elevator videos are much less disturbing than Jack Black in the DJ Lance Suit. Right?
4) This was pretty wonderful. And amazing:
5) But what makes me smile most, is the way my children—my own and my step-children–have learned to accept Dominic for exactly who he is.
The way they try to see the world through his eyes
And most of all…the way they look out for a boy, that is different, but never less than.
A boy who smiles over the simple magic of a world that I will never understand.
A boy who does not know what autism means.
What strange means.
What disability is.
I don’t think I need to explain it to him.
He just simply IS, every day.
He is being his best self.
All of my children are.
As autism awareness month begins, know that we at our house are aware of autism and how it seems to the rest of the world. And we are keenly aware that our world may be strange to you.
It’s taken us awhile. But now I can say, that’s all right with us.
But be aware that we are doing well here. That we do not need your sympathy nor your sadness. That we appreciate your kindness and love.
Be aware that we are a family who makes the most of every day, every challenge.
Just like your family. Your family, autism or not, is special too.
But most of all, be aware that nothing–not disability or limitation or a month of celebration or a world that is more aware—is going to change the way we feel.
And that nothing, NOT one thing–especially autism…can stop us from smiling.