Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Autism Awareness: Define "normal"

We're three weeks away from Autism Awareness Month and World Autism Awareness Day. There's a push for folks to wear blue on April 2, and buildings from the Empire State Building to the Sydney Opera House will be bathed in an azure wash. There's even a call to add a cobalt hue to the White House. Here in my home town of Rutland, Vermont we will again be hosting "Celebrate the Spectrum", a full month of community-based events and activities centered around autism awareness.

Hopefully, there will be something to show for all of this awareness advocacy. The question is: will it ever be more than blue shirts, awareness ribbons, support walks and sound bytes? I hope so. But, when there isn't a month supporting my son and those like him, other questions abound.

  • My son walks normally, not with a limp. Why would he warrant a "handicapped" tag?

  • He looks just like any other normal kid on the playground. Why doesn't he play kickball with the other boys?

  • He doesn't come into the restaurant in a wheelchair. Why can't he just sit normally like his two quiet sisters?

  • Every other normal person in the room is whispering amongst themselves. So, why does he have to sing and hum so loudly, and keep beating his hands on the wall?

  • Why can't we just let go of his hand like any other normal kid?

  • He just looks so ... normal.

There's the issue. Autistics (or those with autism, or however you choose to phrase it) don't look different than anyone else in the room. No curved spine. No wheelchair. No Cochlear Implant or hearing aid. No guide animal or white cane. Nothing to identify that they are facing what you and I would consider a challenge.

Once the ribbons have faded, the walks have wrapped, the donations have been tallied, and the light bulbs replaced with the color of the next support event, our loved ones living with autism will go back to looking normal. And, when they have a meltdown in the middle of Costco because the humming fluorescents and PA systems became too much, we will go back to being the parents who can't control "that unruly child".

Because memories fade, and human nature is in us all.

I guess that's just normal.



Lauralee said...

I love it!

Jeanne Bradley said...

I like the movie wretches and jabberers the documentary. wretchesandjabberers.org. it is a movie about two men with autism that travel the world in an effort to help others understand what they are capable of, not focusing as much as what is different. in the movie, larry comments to the viewer that he is "more like them than not". i believe they did a wonderful job at teaching the message that anything is possible and that folks communicate all the time in different ways. the institute for communication and inclusion at syracuse university and the folks at wapadh.org are wonderful in continuing to encourage all people to work on allowing our bodies to perform at our best and to be valued and contribute as a member of our families, schools, communities. I look forward to meeting your wonderful family!