April is World Autism Month.
For me, each April I’m transported back to one of my first “freak out” moments as a parent.
My wife and I were sitting in the doctor’s office, our twin boys bouncing around acting like a pair of wild animals, and the doctor says “it’s too early to know for sure but he may end up being on the autism spectrum.”
For a brief second actually a few hours my heart felt heavy and my mind was spinning.
Only after reading countless articles, essays and journals did I fully understand what “being on the spectrum” even meant.
Years later I feel foolish for my reaction.
In addition to rekindling that memory, April reminds my wife and I of the importance to pass on some basic lessons to our friends and most importantly to our children regarding autism:
1. Don’t say retarded or retard. Just don’t do it. It’s not funny, it’s mean and hurtful. Using these words is every bit as ignorant as using a racial slur. In our house the consequences for using this word are equal or greater than any naughty four-letter-word a child might mention.
2. Don’t make Autism a taboo subject. I can remember as a child if I started asking uncomfortable questions my parents would try to change the subject or tell me not to talk about it. Guess what, that just makes a youngster more curious. I’m not saying that we explain things on a molecular level, but I think it’s important for everyone to have a general understanding of what autism means
3. Celebrate the fact that everyone is different. My grandmother used to tell me repeatedly that “nobody is any better than you and nobody is any worse than you.”
We’re all just different.
How boring would life be if we were all the same ?
The truth is that many autistic people I’ve met are among the sweetest people I’ve known.
According to the CDC, 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
That’s not the number that should concern you.
According to Autism Speaks, a group tasked with gathering information and spreading awareness about autism, nearly two-thirds of children with autism between the ages of 6 and 15 have been bullied.
Read that one more time.
Nearly two-thirds of children with autism have been bullied.
That’s not OK.
I’m proud to say that in Beatrice I truly feel that number is lower.
I credit organizations like BSDC and Mosaic for breaking down boundaries and going to great lengths to not just raise awareness, but become something that all of us can be proud of. The Beatrice Police Department has been an active supporter of Special Olympics and Beatrice Public Schools continues to work toward improving its programming for those students who might be on the spectrum.
The goal of World Autism Month is to increase global understanding and acceptance of people with autism.
There’s plenty of time left in the month for each of us to do our part.