April. Here in the States that means Autism Awareness Month. It is hoped, by those who organize such things, that a month like this will, well, grow awareness and concern about autism. Just in case you need a reminder I would like to state for the record:
I am aware of autism.
Our youngest son, Andrew, is on the spectrum. He was diagnosed in 2007 after many months (years?) of evaluation, observation, and assessment by those who know a lot about such things. He was four years old. In the nearly five years since diagnosis I have had a few things to say about raising an on-the-spectrum child. Writing about him has helped me to process the journey and celebrate the being that he is. There have been moments of sorrow and moments of joy along the way. Indeed, there is angst; there is anxiety. Also, there are questions; lots of questions. And, overall, there is growth and learning. One thing that I am most certain I have learned along the way:
Autism is awareness.
One of the incredible things about the incredible boy I am raising is his heightened state of awareness of EVERYTHING that is happening around him. The experts say that, for those of us with neuro-typicality, our brains have an ability to filter noises and prioritize what we should focus upon as we listen, or interact, or engage with the world. Not so for the specially made brain with autism; rather, sounds and stimulation all come through at the same level of volume, or speed, or overwhelm. It is much more difficult for a child with autism to distinguish noises and prioritize sounds to find focus.
Or, as Andrew says it: “I have very sensitive ears”.
And so he does, along with a very sensitive soul and an insatiable zest for life. Living with
a this child on the spectrum is a daily lesson on noticing everything, the way he does. For Andrew, every, every moment in his day is a new adventure. Put him on a swing and he shouts at the top of his lungs with unmitigated joy. Offer him a new book to read (preferably about Power Rangers) and his whoops of delight are infectious. He tells jokes. He sings songs. He chatters incessantly. He hears everything. He is readily distracted by side sightings and wandering thoughts. When I forget to remember who he is (and sometimes I do) it can be frustrating, especially when attempting to make a departure from the house to reach school on time. But when I remember to be still and watch him, I am constantly fascinated by what fascinates him. His curiosity about the world is unending–he asks questions about how things work, why things happen the way they do, and what might happen next. He (like many children with autism) interprets things literally and it takes large effort on his part to open his mind to the idea that some things we say are not what they sound like. Idioms are idiocy for a boy like this–after all, raindrops are made of water, NOT cats and dogs.
I have long said that Andrew walks at his own pace. Occasionally, that is at turbo speed (well. as fast as eight-and-a-half-year-old legs can run), but most often that is the sure and steady pace of the tortoise. He pushes along in his own time, always pressing forward in steady progress, but with a cadence that allows for him to pause, notice, investigate, and breathe it all in. I am honored to be his companion for the journey.
My son has autism.
It makes me aware.
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