April is autism awareness month, and we hope that this story of a mother of a child with Autism will help people understand more about this disorder.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. ASD can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances.
More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined. ASD affects an estimated 3 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide. Moreover, government autism statistics suggest that prevalence rates have increased 10 to 17 percent annually in recent years. There is no established explanation for this continuing increase, although improved diagnosis and environmental influences are two reasons often considered.
Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify around 1 in 110 American children are on the autism spectrum–a 600 percent increase in prevalence over the past two decades. Careful research shows that this increase is only partly explained by improved diagnosis and awareness. Studies also show that autism is three to four times more common among boys than girls. An estimated 1 in 88 children and 1 out of 58 boys is diagnosed with autism in the United States.
One of those boys is my son.
I know what you’re thinking… Rainman, right? Not quite. There is a saying: “If you’ve seen one person with autism, you’ve seen just that: one person with autism.” Although they share similarities, people with autism are all unique in the degree of symptoms they experience. My son is in third grade, in the regular classroom and performs well academically. His goal is to go to college and become a paleontologist. He is intelligent, curious, funny, handsome, kind, caring, affectionate, and ridiculously talented at making fart noises. He loves dinosaurs, animals, Star Wars, Godzilla, riding his bike, reading, and swimming. There are a group of friends that he enjoys spending time with, and they understand him and help him at school when he needs it. One of these friends just happens to be the prettiest girl in third grade...the boy’s got swagger, too. With gorgeous blue eyes, a charming smile, and a contagious laugh, he quickly wins over the hearts of everyone who takes the time to get to know him and see him for the person he is, not just his autism.
Some of the things my son says makes me laugh. For example, I was told by a cafeteria monitor from the school that she overheard him say to a girl at his lunch table, “I put the prime in primate.” And it is not unusual to hear “Fire in the hole!” or “Ready, aim, fire!” from behind a closed bathroom door.
My son has come so far, and I am excited to see what his future holds. I have no doubt that he can be anything he wants to be…I believe in him and his abilities. There is nothing I would change about him, and I have become a better person and learned so much on our journey with autism. I am extremely proud to be his mom.
Is life all sunshine, rainbows, and lollipops? Absolutely not. My son struggles with making new friends, sensory issues (certain smells make him nauseous, some fabrics are unbearable on his skin, and loud noises are torture), focusing on academic subjects that don’t interest him, expressing frustration, fine motor activities (especially writing) and anxiety. He hates Math with an intense passion, so that is always a difficult time during the school day. Every day holds challenges, and there are times when I feel totally helpless and wonder if we really are winning the battle against autism.
As a mother of a child with autism, I would just ask one thing: please be understanding, accepting, and compassionate in regards to other people’s differences. Mess with my kid and I will make a mama bear protecting her cub look like Mother Theresa. Just keep in mind that autism is not selective... it can happen to any family at any time.
I will close with two of my favorite quotes:
“I don’t want to be fixed. I don’t want to be cured. I just want to be respected, accommodated, and understood.” – Elisia, wife and mother on the autism spectrum; autism advocate.
“Autism is not a tragedy. Ignorance is the tragedy.” – unknown.