With Autism Awareness month having just begun, there are already a number of posts up related to afore mentioned topic. I only suspect there will be more to come as the month wears on, and while I am not against it, I am not for it either. Last year there were hundreds of posts devoted to this, hundreds of posts related to “What autism looks like” and how to “Catch autism early.” I realize its important, that the sooner you intervene the better chance you have, I get that. But there has been one thought nagging at me ever since.
When Josh was first “diagnosed” I was hesitant. I didn’t want to announce to the world what label had just been stuck on him, and not only because no one was entirely sure if that was what he should be labeled with, but because I didn’t WANT him labeled. Autism, does not define Josh, and it shouldn’t define any kid, or adult. Autism is. But so IS Josh.
Instead of writing ten things autism looks like, or ten things to look for in your child, I wanted to focus more on Josh, and do away with the words that come to mind when I really just want to tell a few labels off. More and more I am tired of assumptions being made, as if Autism is a big umbrella in which every kid who appears normal, but doesn’t get along with other kids, fits neatly. No. They don’t. There is NOT one umbrella, there is not one “cure” or one “way.” What I have come to realize is that autism, is not so much a label, but a diving board in which all ideas that you thought you knew how to raise a kid – go off.
Simply put – Josh might have been diagnosed with autism (he has been diagnosed with a lot of things over the years) but he is not defined by them, and I will never allow him to be.
While everyone is picking apart and drawing attention to the word autism (and fairly so – as it is autism awareness month) I peel back, and go the opposite direction, who is Josh?
I don’t think most people realize, that when it comes down to it, most kids, no matter what the label or diagnosis, are similar in many areas, and yet somehow, once a label is applied, the view towards them is changed. They are placed in a certain box, certain things aren’t expected of them, and other things are. Much like every other kid, Josh wants to play and have fun. He wants to explore, and discover. He wants to make friends, and have a good time. But he is held back – he struggles. But who doesn’t? No one is perfect, there isnt one person who DOESN’T struggle with something at some point. His struggles however, are chocked up to his diagnosis, and no one expects him to be able to overcome them.
This is where I get off the ban wagon. I don’t expect people to coddle him, or move out of his way, or make his life overly easy. I don’t expect people to understand and react accordingly, I don’t expect them to treat him any differently than they would treat any other child – because he IS just a kid. What I don’t expect, and where others are often met with diversity is the way people treat him. As if he is the plague. As if he is so different, there is no help and they might as well just write him off. As soon as the word “Autism” is leaked, all hope goes out the window and you might as well have just told the person that he is a rock – that is incapable of learning, hearing, understanding or feeling.
Just because he struggles – does not mean he doesn’t understand. Just because he doesn’t speak, does not mean he doesn’t hear. Just because he doesn’t exchange the right emotions with you, does not mean he doesn’t feel. He does. Times ten. He is in tune with everything, and understands everything. He knows. And if you would take the time to get to know him, the real him, without any labels or diagnosis, if you would take the time to get to know him – as you would any other person, you too would see this.
Autistic kids are not the plague. They simply are kids. Humans. Tiny people. Who want to be understood and heard as much as the next. But if you aren’t going to take the time to listen, then why should they take the time to show. Or speak. Or interact.
Autism doesn’t need a month of awareness, I am pretty sure everyone already knows of its existence. What it needs, is understanding that while it might be a label, a diagnosis, a seemingly daunting future – behind it all – is a face. A name. I get that Josh is different – who isnt? I get that he might be harder to understand – who isnt? I get that he might be harder to teach – who isnt? Beneath all of that – there really is a child who wants to learn, who wants to show, who wants to please. What I dont get is why people count him out just because he happens to have a label a little different than others.
“If one says “Red” and there are fifty people listening, it can be expected that there will be fifty reds in their minds. And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different.”