People have just started dusting off their ribbons and lighting things up blue for Autism Awareness month. It’s the time of year where we make sure everyone knows about what Autism is and how it affects different families differently.
In the past, I’ve written about the contrast between Autism Awareness and Autism Acceptance. For me, Awareness is about making sure people know that Autism exists and recognizing it in others. Acceptance, though, is about not trying to cure or change Autism, but accepting it in others without judgment. That’s how I see the difference between the two. They’re both commendable pursuits and I stand behind both.
But I’m not writing about either one of them today.
The Autism Awareness I’m writing about isn’t the one where you are aware of what Autism is. It’s about being aware of the actual people who have Autism. To be more specific, it’s about being aware of my son.
At seven, Lucas is non-verbal and often drifts into his own world. Holidays, vacations, and dinner parties can easily be spent without even noticing he’s there. With the exception of sporadic noises and clapping, which sometimes become invisible to those around him most, Lucas can melt away into his iPad and never cause anyone to turn their gaze to his direction. He’s fine.
I often say that my son is the quietest wheel you’ll ever find in a world where the squeakiest ones gets the grease. He doesn’t pester us to buy him toys in commercials or beg for tickets to Wiggles concerts. He never interrupts Christmas dinner with a rambling story about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He doesn’t even care what clothes we put on him. In a nutshell, my boy is the easiest going little guy you’ll ever meet. No squeaks. No grease. No one has to say a word and everyone is happy.
Except, in many of those cases, me. I’m not happy.
Lucas is my son and, as my son, I want him to have absolutely everything he could ever want or need. I feel that way about my daughter as well and I know most parents want the same for their children. If there is any desire for anything in his heart that he can’t ask for, I strive to figure out what it is and make sure he has it. It doesn’t matter if he’ll be content without it. In many cases, he will be. He’s cool like that. It doesn’t change the fact that Lucas deserves whatever he would bother us for, if he did that sort of thing. Whether it’s a toy, a food, or something else he’s not even aware that he wants until he has it, it’s my mission to piece it together like a puzzle and get it in his hand. Simply put, one of my main goals in life is to be aware of what he wants, even if he can’t tell me.
Being such a silent wheel also leads to his invisibility at get-togethers. To be brutally honest, I get pretty annoyed when people arrive at a party without saying hello to him or leave without giving a courtesy goodbye. As his father, I’d rather they ignore me than Lucas. Sure, he might not look them in the eye or even acknowledge that they’re there. That doesn’t change the fact that he shouldn’t be passed by like patio furniture. He’s there. He’s one of the most important people in my life. Be aware of him.
That’s the most important aspect of Autism Awareness Month to me. It’s not about making sure your neighbor knows the Wikipedia definition of Autism. It’s about being aware of the people who are on the spectrum and giving them the same respect you would give anyone else. It’s about removing yourself from the self-centered notion that thank yous and goodbyes are reserved for people who can return the sentiment. It’s about realizing that every person is a person and should be given the same amount of respect.
This goes for anyone on the Autism Spectrum. Whether non-verbal or otherwise, no one should be overlooked just because you assume they don’t care either way. In many cases, they do.
And even if they don’t, so what? You don’t give people attention just so you can get attention back. You do it because it’s the right thing to do. Of course, that’s not just about my son or Autism. In a perfect world, all people should treat all other people with respect no matter what may separate them.
But I know that’s a pretty ambitious thing to ask for here today. So for now, I’ll just start with my son and hopefully we can all expand from there.