April is Autism Awareness Month. It’s that lovely time of year when I get reminded how terrible my son’s life will be without all the adequate supports, therapeutic breakthroughs and medical miracles that money can buy; when many well-meaning people send out a barrage of depressing statistics and sad-yet-uplifting tales, designed to pull on the heartstrings of potential donors.
Let’s take this moment to look at the classic definition of autism from a slightly different angle:
My son suffers from “a qualitative impairment in social interaction.”
He displays a healthy disregard for social “norms.” At 12 years old, my kid has absolutely no problem getting in the middle of a giggling circle of 6th grade girls and busting a move at his school dances if he feels like it.
My son struggles with “qualitative impairments in communication.”
He can express himself quite clearly without saying a word. When he gains permission to put a favorite item in our grocery cart, my son literally dances down the store aisle. There may be no “words” that adequately express that kind of joy.
My son exhibits “restricted repetitive behaviors and inflexible adherence to routines.”
He could save your life. If you were to take a ride with him, you would find that everyone in the car must wear their seatbelts. He will repeatedly remind you until you comply. Absolutely no exceptions.
I understand why these kinds of “perks” are rarely featured in autism awareness campaigns and I do hope that April produces the massive infusion of funds that we need for autism research, treatment, and services. If those depressing ads work to heighten awareness so that people of all abilities gain the support and equal opportunity necessary to lead healthy, productive, meaningful lives, that is a great thing.
In the meantime, I’ll focus on the fact that – as often as my son displays some of those devastating attributes that the awareness campaigns feel compelled to highlight – there are many things about our life with a child on the spectrum that I love, not in spite of his autism, but because of it.