Autism Awareness Month
We belong to a long line of people who would almost certainly have earned a diagnosis had it been available. My 12-greats grandfather upped sticks and came to this country to build a mill. He did so without plans and ignoring common sense advice that it was in the wrong place to actually work. 375 years later, the mill is still operational. That kind of stubbornness and physical aptitude isn't autism diagnosis, but those traits could certainly be described as being "Autism adjacent." I laugh inwardly whenever I hear of the "Autism epidemic." My family was centuries ahead of the time. My grandfather was almost certainly on the spectrum, and his brother ticked all the boxes in thick, black pen.
April can be a tough month for Autistic people, and it's no different for my son and me. It becomes perfectly clear that "Awareness" is not the same as "Acceptance." Imagine a black history month where all you heard was the crime statistics and "inspirational" stories of black people who "overcame" their blackness to succeed anyway. It would certainly make you "Aware" of the African Americans around you.
For my boy, April has been a tough month already, especially coming out of the high point that was the last weekend in March. He spent the weekend participating in the CAN/AM Hockey tournament in Lake Placid, NY. This "Special needs" hockey league caters to kids with a variety of needs, but the autism spectrum is heavily represented.
I wasn't able to go with him, but all the reports I got back said that he just bloomed. Those on the spectrum are often characterized as socially inept and unable to participate in group activities, but when you put a bunch of these kids together it becomes clear that they aren't inept, just different. They do just fine when interacting with people who "get" them. I could imagine a neurotypical placed in this group feeling just as isolated and "inept" as autistics often feel in general society. He came back practically glowing and with many plans to get together with his newly formed friends.
The first weekend in April was different. I walked in on Mrs 'Struction comforting him. He'd just seen an Autism Speaks commercial that had informed him about how much of a burden he was to his parents and society. How much he needed to be "cured" and how hard they were working to do it. At 9, he has no real understanding of the holocaust, but the *final solution*-like verbiage around the word "cure" still had an effect on him.
He was distraught, and barely consolable. If there's one thing he doesn't want to be is a burden on anyone. When you go through life knowing that you're likely to overstep some invisible social line some time during the day, it's hard not to retreat into a shell of avoidance, isolation and self-blame. It's a coping mechanism saves you from a lot of embarrassment and awkwardness, but is also dangerously counterproductive, both socially and professionally. Until now, we've been able to protect him from that kind of thinking.
Thanks Autism Speaks. Thank you SO much. You certainly don't speak for us. You're not helping. Please stop.