It’s May. The blue shirts are folded. The ribbons are a different color. The month of Autism Awareness is over.
For parents to children on the spectrum, it has been a solid 30 of good-natured flyers and activities meant to teach children about one another. There are questions from relatives and wide-eyed looks from children who learn that Autism is more than a keyword in class. Autism is real. You know a person with autism. They know a person with autism. It’s a big deal. For that month, my non-verbal little guy is a local celebrity.
The calendar may change, but my family doesn’t. Lucas, my strong and silent type, is the same boy he was last month and will be next month. Autism isn’t linked to April in our home. Autism is linked to our lives.
That statement, you should note, is meant in a good way. My boy may have struggles in life, but as a human being, he’s pretty fantastic. To us, it’s not about where he is on a particular spectrum, because all of us have our own distinct personality traits.
When my daughter was little, I would make the library talk. What? Yes. We’d drive by and I’d call out:
In a gruff voice, “the library” would shout, “Hello, Olivia!”
When she was little, she would say hi back. When she got older, she accused me of doing the voice. After that, she stopped responding at all. Nothing. That was years ago. Still, I did it.
Today, if I drive by the library, even alone, I do it. Friggin’ alone.
Now honestly, is that much more bizarre than my son clapping loudly at certain parts of his show? It’s not. It’s all part of life and, while his quirks like screaming-out or jumping in excitement might be different for others to witness, it’s not really all that different at all. Everyone has mannerisms and tastes that others can’t fathom.
That’s my point in sharing Lucas with the world. It’s why I write about him and tell his story to whoever asks. My goal is to show that his differences might be glaring when you meet him, but his similarities are more abundant than people might realize. Also, those differences aren’t as scary, dire, or depressing as those not affected by autism might understand.
I want people to understand. I see April as a time to reach more eager neighbors about who my son is and what makes him special. It cuts down on the stigma surrounding my child’s special needs and allows those who might not otherwise ask questions to ask them.
Above all else, Autism Awareness month allows the youngest among of us to become comfortable with a child like Lucas. It makes them less afraid and more open to experiencing him rather than spying on him. There are less kindergarteners hiding behind the endcap of the peanut butter aisle staring at my child from afar during a supermarket run. There are less whispers and points. There are less precarious moments.
Precarious is a word that needs an unexpected explanation. I don’t mean precarious because I care what people think. That’s not the case. For those who don’t have a child facing challenges, you might need an explanation. For those who do have special needs children, the upcoming answer is one that has snuck up on us now and again.
I really don’t want to fight random people at the supermarket.
And that was one of my biggest worries when I first learned of my his special needs. I pictured rude people doing rude things and me having to be the one to pummel them for doing so. I envisioned Chuck Norris-like scenarios where I flew through the air and knocked down rows of gawking townies. Fireworks firing. People screaming. The rocket’s red glare, buncha bombs in the air. The battles I fought in my head were plentiful, inevitable, and straight from a Michael Bay movie.
Then, none of that happened. Ever.
We’ve been lucky in that sense. Aside from a few passing glances and obvious discomfort over the years, people have been fairly nice. Trust me, I’ve been on the lookout for it. No crane kicks at Kohls. No backlot brawls at the bouncy place. We’ve been good.
Can we chalk that up to Autism Awareness? Maybe. We can certainly chalk it up to a better sense of understanding. It’s the understanding that we strive every day to achieve.
There’s only 11 months left to Autism Awareness month. For those not affected by autism, make an effort to continue to learn about what positive things it can bring to a person and their relationships. For those who are affected by it, stay accessible. Answer questions. Build understanding. Breed the acceptance that means so much by being accepting of those genuinely hoping to learn more.
And maybe, just maybe, save us all from having to throw down at the supermarket.