He was diagnosed the day before his third birthday and with that diagnosis, joined the ranks of millions of children and adults diagnosed with an ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) every year.
The day he was diagnosed, the doctor asked me how I felt about the diagnosis. I said I felt relief. It had been a long summer of wondering and the diagnosis meant that we could finally move on with our lives and begin to help our son in the areas where he was having problems.
My son loves numbers and letters.
He loves dancing and Gene Kelly. His autism helps him see the amazing details of life. His memory is incredible. This helped him read at the young age of 18 months and be able to do basic math at two and a half. He feels deeply and is bothered by any form of sadness. Emotions can overwhelm him sometimes, like any other four year-old. His father and I work hard to use visuals to teach him, as like many people with an ASD, he learns best that way. I love the world my son has shown me. I love how he sees the details of life and the amazing love of learning he has and that he has instilled in me.
But there’s something about having a child with autism that’s the worst… the way the rest of the world views his diagnosis.
Every day we are inundated with Facebook posts, memes, and speeches by presidential hopefuls stating that autism is to be feared. Every day we are told not to ingest something, give a vaccine, or hold our kids too long for fear that they might get this dreaded, horrible disease called Autism. Every day, those people without an ASD watch and hear these things and so do those, like my son, who have been diagnosed with an ASD.
I can’t even begin to understand how depressing it must be to hear that countless parents would rather expose their child to diseases like, polio, whooping cough, measles, mumps, and hepatitis, rather than risk the very thought that their child might simply think and perceive the world as my son does. They would rather risk the death of their child than have them fall anywhere on the autism spectrum.
Can you imagine seeing that day in and day out?
Can you imagine people referring to the way you see the world as an “epidemic”? Something that needs to be “cured”? These are all things that my son, my sweet little son and those on the spectrum hear every day: You are not normal. I would rather my child not be able to walk, then be anything like you.
I, of course, am my son’s mother, and therefore have the right to view him as perfect.
But aren’t all of our kids perfect? Aren’t their individual capabilities and faults in and of themselves, perfect? Don’t all of our children struggle with different aspects of life? Need to be reminded to use words? Learn at different speeds, capacities, and ways? Why then, simply because my son and others like him learn in similar ways, view the world in pictures and details, and have different interests than a typical four year-old, do he and his fellow ASD community members need to be feared?
I refuse to see my son or our family as victims of some rampant epidemic. My son is not to be pitied and neither is my family. He is as beautiful and as whole as every other child and person has the capacity to be.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, millions of children are diagnosed with an ASD every year. Millions. That’s a lot of people growing up in a world that seems, if Facebook memes and celebrity speeches are to be believed, to be ashamed of them simply because of how their minds work.
Every parent is told that the words that we say to our children will shape them later on in life.
Maybe we need to take a closer look at the words and ideas we are putting out as a nation, as those without autism are not the only ones being shaped by them. Those, like my son, are being taught to believe that they are not wanted and they should be feared and I, for one, refuse to let the stigma of the ASD diagnosis continue in my home. I hope that you read this, and approach ASD in a different and more accepting way too.