There are many people who advocate for autism awareness and acceptance better than I.
As another April rolls around and so many campaigns go forward to integrate autism into our collective consciousness, I find that my greatest impulse is to share my undying admiration for my ASD son, who is growing into a delightful man. He is mercurial, goofy, meticulous, and single-minded. He is sensitive, intuitive, impulsive, and hyper-empathetic. He worries about death, separation and growing up.
Most of all, he is vulnerable. He is aware of a complex world in which many things are just beyond his reach and so craves sameness and routine. He wants those he loves to be always near him. The heavy mantle of trust he places on us is never a burden because within it is his precious heart that gives love so freely it makes us dizzy with delight. All his emotions are distilled down to their purest form, and there are moments when I am temporarily daunted and disarmed by the intensity.
He is, I have understood for many years, the embodiment of the greatest joys and fears of all humans. He is the precious natural resource we have been charged to preserve. We are honored by the task and hope to be worthy of it, and of him.
Objects in mirror are closer than they appear
Many high schools in our area have a big rock on which students advertise the latest fad, inside joke, or activity. They scamper in after hours and paint the rock, and this week some of our enterprising seniors painted it up blue. It’s touching. Still, all I can hear in my head is the voice of Charlie Brown on Halloween night as he looked in what was supposed to have been his bag of candy and moaned, “I got a rock.”
Our blue light
As I angled the camera to get a good photo of the blue candle, I saw that the reflected flame is more beautiful than the original. With all the talk of Holland* and dashed hopes that some of us face with an autism diagnosis, with all the planning and worrying still to come, with all the explaining and misunderstanding and misinformation in the world out there, with all the emotional collateral damage yet to assess, there is still a light that shines in the darkness of what my life would have been without him (and his siblings, who show such tremendous grace and humor under pressure). As much as ever, I embrace what I wrote in 1998 when I tried to describe what turned out to be autism: this boy is closer to heaven and hell than I will ever be on this earth. His unfiltered (or sometimes, overfiltered…) take on the world reveals the sublime and the absurd and gives me the courage to keep fighting demons that, without my children, surely would have overtaken me long ago.
But I know the roles can reverse. There are many who justifiably curse the cloak of darkness that autism drapes over their child. It’s impossible to be grateful for every moment; there are millions of them that are best forgotten. But it’s in those dark moments that we are most grateful for the light when it does return (if we can just remember where we hid the matches).
*The Welcome to Holland essay inspires many people when they first face a disability diagnosis, but Susan Rzucidlo’s Welcome to Beirut has always been my personal favorite for families on the spectrum.
Renewal and irony and reality all converging on a single spring day. Melting snow, green shoots, black earth. The extremes of New England’s seasons are the metaphor I cannot ignore.
I tend to roll my eyes on the awareness month for anything, and even more so for Autism Awareness Month because I’m conflicted about foisting upon the world an awareness of what I consider to be our private business. But making the world more navigable for our boy is part of that business and thus I need to try to find ways to use the opportunity that autism awareness month presents without seeming insufferable and needy (good luck with that, I know). And what is a blog for if not for saying something that I think might be worth reading? I ask myself all the time why I do this and most of the time the answer is that I write about it because I can’t not write about it. From my perch, autism awareness is as much about the journey and the humor and poetry borne of the angst and the crazy – it’s not nearly as helpful as what others are contributing to the dialogue, but it’s what I have.
So in a nod to the everyday awareness that we have of autism, I’ll post something every day (an essay, photo, or link to those who are saying it better than I) in April in hopes that something and interesting and good will come of it.
Today, John Elder Robison continues to fight the good fight for people with Asperger’s Syndrome in the wake of Sandy Hook.