Today’s episode will be a solo episode, so no guest. I wanted to take the time to touch on a subject that sparks a lot of frustration in the autism community. What does autism look like? I often am told that my son doesn’t “look autistic”. Even though I know that most people are not intending to be insensitive, it still bothers me. Yes, my son is the most beautiful thing that I’ve ever laid eyes on, but his beauty is more than skin deep. Autism does not define him, and I have never let his autism diagnosis precede him. So how do you respond when someone says something like “your child doesn’t look autistic”?
I use this question as an educational platform; an opportunity to present information in a conversation. I usually say, “If you want to know what an autistic child looks like, look at your own child or grandchild. Look at the children who live next door to you and take a glimpse at every child you walk past on the street. These could very well be the faces of autism. There is no visible indication that a child is affected by this neurological disorder.”
Autism is the king of all tricksters. I know this to be true because there have been times when I took my son to the store or doctor’s office and received looks of confusion or frustration in response to his sometimes-odd behaviors. Unless I inform someone, no one has a clue that he is autistic.
From time to time, I find myself getting upset about the glares from individuals who would never think autism is the culprit for these odd behaviors. There have even been occasions when I’ve had to get a little confrontational with those brave souls who dared to make a rude comment or stare for just a little longer than necessary. But, after all of the annoyance and rude exchanges, autism still lingers. It seems to me the only thing left to do is educate rather than disassociate. I believe this is where acceptance and inclusion come into play.
So, what exactly is autism? A lot of people I’ve crossed paths with have no clue as to what this disorder is and are even quick to misconstrue the meaning of autistic with artistic.
Autism doesn’t have anything to do with the arts; our children are extremely talented, but artistic and autistic are two different things.
Autism is an illness that affects social and communication skills. Some Autistic children have a hard time playing with others and making friends and some are nonverbal. Many autistic children display behaviors that may include: repetitively pouring liquids from cup to cup, spinning around and not getting dizzy, not wanting to be touched or hugged, lining up toys and screaming for hours. Of course, every Autistic child is different. There are varying levels of this disorder and that’s why it is called a spectrum.
Some individuals on the low end of the spectrum are nonverbal and are only able to show what they want by taking others to it or bringing someone a picture. The fact that they can’t communicate is the reason for most of their severe meltdowns.
Imagine for a moment being frustrated, but not being able to express why. Imagine you have a toothache, but you’re not able tell anyone. Think how you would feel if you really wanted affection, but a simple stroke of your skin caused physical pain.
These are just a few of the things autism individuals must face and because of this, I have made a promise to my son and others on the autism spectrum to put up a good fight. To be their voice if they don’t yet have one. To be not only their advocate, but a part of every family’s support system.
Right now, no one expert has been able to confirm what causes autism, but one thing is certain: bad parenting IS NOT the cause of this impairment. Unfortunately, we still have some who are ready and willing to wave the idea around that a parent can inflict autism onto their child.