April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day!
It's interesting to see how far we've come since this time last year. On Autism Awareness Day 2010, I was wearing a button that read "Someone I Love Needs a Cure". I still have half a bag of those buttons floating around here someplace, but I don't want them anymore.
Firstborn's Asperger's diagnosis in August, which seemed silly and unnecessary at the time (he's so mild, only those very familiar with autism would ever recognize the signs), has been a huge eye-opener for me.
While Rosemary's Baby has symptoms (namely the language issue) that need serious, intensive intervention, Firstborn has quirks. When I was growing up in the 70's and 80's, a kid like Firstborn would just be labelled a "nerd". Certainly, he has a few issues that need a bit of smoothing out. He's disorganized (no IDEA where he picked THAT up...). His ability to explain things verbally is a little jumbled. He still refuses to wear shirts with buttons, or pants with anything but an elastic waist. These are things I can live with. He's a scatterbrained nutty professor in a 7 year-old's body. That oddball personality is not something I want to see "cured". It makes him who he is and I'd miss it if it wasn't there anymore.
What I do still need is lots of research, more therapies and more available services for all people on the spectrum. I'd like to see ALL children helped to a point where they can eventually live an independent life. I'd like that to be a guarantee. But a cure? Meh. It's just not that important to me anymore.
I was remembering recently a comment from a girl I worked with in the fast-food industry when I was a student. This particular burger chain employed people from a local Community Living program to clean tables and whatnot. One afternoon, one of those employees, a girl with Down Syndrome, was just getting off shift. As she headed out the door, one of the other girls working the till turned to me and said:
"I feel so sorry for her. Really, what kind of a LIFE is that?"
At the time, I shrugged my shoulders and went about my business. I didn't really have much of an opinion either way on the subject. But now that I have my own child with special needs, I do have an opinion. And this is it:
Who the #*%! did that chick think she was?!!
It's easy as a neuro-typical person to look at people with disabilities and differences with pity and to think of them as being somehow less. God knows, my initial reaction when I realized I didn't have a "normal" kid was one of grief. But if any good has come from this situation for me, it's that I no longer see the world the way I used to.
Without exception, the nastiest, most mean-spirited people I have ever known have all been neuro-typical. By contrast, some of the sweetest, most sensitive and caring children I've ever worked with were ones with disabilities. Many of the brightest minds of our time (and probably throughout history too) are ones that are considered disabled. Every person, regardless of ability, has a contribution to make on this planet.
This year, I ordered something different to stick on my jacket--something that expresses my feelings about autism better than those old "cure" buttons:
Couldn't have said it better myself.