Almost every month of the calendar year has an “awareness” label and sometimes more than one. You may be “aware” that April is Autism Awareness Month. But if you’re AWARE, do you really UNDERSTAND? Just what is autism?
Have you ever seen a child throw a super-wild tantrum in a store? Have you ever thought “spoiled brat,” “must be super tired,” or “thank heaven he’s not my child?” I know there’s hardly a child alive who hasn’t had a meltdown somewhere, sometime in the least appropriate spot. Mine always seemed to pick church. Tantrums are a very normal part of growing up. But for parents with autistic children, a “normal” tantrum would be heaven.
The following behaviors are often associated with autism. However, they are seldom all present in any one individual and vary widely in degree:
- limited or inappropriate social interactions
• “robotic” or repetitive speech
• challenges with nonverbal communication (gestures, facial expression, etc.) coupled with average to above average verbal skills
• tendency to discuss self rather than others
• inability to understand social/emotional issues or nonliteral phrases
• lack of eye contact or reciprocal conversation
• obsession with specific, often unusual, topics
• one-sided conversations
• awkward movements and/or mannerisms
This blog is purely personal. I’ve been aware of autism for a while because my beloved little five-year-old grandson has it. Tristan is lucky in that he has Asperger syndrome, a relatively mild form of autism. I’m aware, but I don’t understand it completely, and know so many others don’t. I’m learning, thanks to observing and talking to my very patient and brave daughter who advocates constantly for her son’s welfare. Tristan is mainstreamed in kindergarten, and loves it. I would guess that the hardest part of having an autistic child is dealing with the people who don’t understand autism or Tristan, and who feel free to criticize my grandchild and his family.
Recently, my daughter was walking Tristan to the car after kindergarten was over for the day. Another little boy hollered “Tristan! Tristan! Tristan!” until Tristan finally reacted and turned to him, smiling. The little boy was smiling, too, but the adult with him, bent over and asked in an overly loud voice if this was “Tristan, the bully.” Evidently at one point during the school year, Tristan got in trouble because he and this little boy were wrestling and then started fighting a bit. Each one seemed to have forgotten the episode, as children do. But the adult hadn’t.
My daughter put her son in the car, then approached the adult (who identified herself as the boy’s big sister), and asked her if she could talk to her for a minute. She proceeded to explain that Tristan was special needs, and that it was wonderful that her little brother and Tristan were obviously friendly to each other. The young woman merely shrugged, pushed her brother into the car, and took off. Hopefully, she had the intelligence herself to do some research and to search her heart and will not do anything like that again.
My point in this blog: Don’t just settle for reading the word “Aware” – become aware enough that you fully UNDERSTAND. We never stop learning – and learning about our fellow human beings is one of the smartest and kindest things you can for for yourself, and for others.
(photo from R. Edwards: “The END of all tantrums”)