Today is World Autism Awareness Day. We are all encouraged to ‘Light it up Blue’ to spread the message and educate folks about what it’s like to be on The Spectrum. It’s a bit of a cliché, but every day of my life is an AAD. I like to do my bit by educating everyone we come into contact with by being open and honest about my son’s autism and how it affects his life. I’m sure it must get boring at times, but that’s just how I roll. And how I deal with it, I guess.
I have been thinking to myself – what exactly is this ‘message’ I want to spread? What do I want the world to know about my boy? Well firstly that he is amazing. He is beautiful. And he is clever. But also that autism makes certain things so hideously painful for him that it breaks my heart. That he doesn’t have recognisable language, yet he has the best memory of anyone I know. Here’s an example.
The other night, just before bedtime at 9.50 pm he began to point to his bedroom and communicated the words ‘McDonalds box’ to me. My heart sunk a little, as I was more than ready for a sleep myself, so the thought of searching through the hundreds of books and toys in his room at this time of night wasn’t an appealing prospect. But, because I knew that he wouldn’t be able to wait till tomorrow and he wouldn’t settle, we set about starting our mission.
His room is jam packed full of books, magazines and random photos and clippings that we have carefully saved from the twelve years of his life. It’s his own Aladdin’s Cave of randomness. But to be honest, I didn’t think that there were any McDonald’s boxes in there. So I began to prepare myself for a big, violent meltdown. However, we carried on with the search. And after about ten minutes of him pointing where I needed to look, sure enough two McDonald’s Happy Meal boxes were found, under a pile of jigsaws. He was a happy chappy again. I inspected the boxes and they were from 2007 and the one he was most excited about featured some little known Pixar film that didn’t exactly set the cinemas alight. However he remembered the names of every single animal character on the box when I asked him. Amazing stuff.
In stark contrast, last week I was telling someone (who has only recently got to know William) that he eats the same thing for tea six days out of every seven. He has my home-made chilli and pasta Sunday through till Friday, and then he has a take-out treat of chips and garlic bread on a Saturday. He has done this for as long as I can remember. It’s just what he does. And I don’t mind as I can add fresh veg and he doesn’t realise. The person I was telling asked me how he knew what day of the week it was. This really shocked me. And offended me initially, if I’m honest. Although he has major problems with language and even the simplest of social concepts confuse him, his understanding and love of time and routine is second to none. He even knows what days of the week it is during the Christmas break, when nobody else can remember! For someone to think he was unaware of what day of the week it was, was just totally laughable. So I explained to the enquirer and politely set him straight.
One of my son’s school pals who is also on the spectrum has recently revealed his amazing aptitude for spelling – it just comes effortlessly to him. Who knew? I think it even shocked his mum! Our children are just full of wonderful surprises and who doesn’t love a surprise?
All this helped me to decide that my message for Autism Awareness Day is this – never underestimate my boy. Never judge him. Just because he cannot talk does not mean that he doesn’t understand. Talk to him – get to know him – if he’s doing something bizarre – ask me what he’s doing – I’ll explain. Gladly.
Get to know someone with autism. I promise you that your life will never be the same.