April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day. So, “World,” this is Alex. Alex has Autism, and there are some things that he and I would like people to know. Alex is just like you, and different too. And we think different is pretty NOT BORING. Alex wants you to accept him just the way he is.
In the picture above he is wearing a shirt with our Autism Ninja that he helped design and his Uncle drew for him. The NinjAlex is an Autism superhero that fights for Autism acceptance and to make the world a better place. The Ninja’s original belt was modeled after one of the symbols of an organization that has meant a great deal to our family, The Autism Society of America. Plus Alex thought it looked cool. Since then the Ninja has had a costume change and sports a snazzy new acceptance infinity symbol belt. He is blue because Alex’s favorite color is blue.
We need Autism acceptance because the world can feel hostile to those who are different. Autism comes with both blessings and challenges, and it can be difficult for Autistic people to navigate a Neurotypical world that refuses to accommodate them. Alex and I hope that others will learn to appreciate what makes him unique and take action to be more welcoming to people with Autism. (For more specific ways that you can help the Autism community please see the post, “Autism Action Month. DO Something!“) Another desire is that Alex will encounter patience and compassion if others see him having a hard time, and that they offer a helping hand instead of being harsh or judgmental. His classmates at school recently demonstrated what happens when you teach children about diversity and acceptance. They are aware that Alex is Autistic and advocated for him during a misunderstanding. They inspire me!
Alex is proud of his unique brain, and says “Autism is a great thing. No kidding. It makes me special and creative.” When asked to describe himself in only one word, he said, “I’m FABULOUS!” His big brother is his best friend and his favorite things are video games, Minecraft, sea lions, and Lego. He is also energetic, smart, and has a knack for improv comedy. When he grows up he wants to be a scientist and a video game programmer. He also says that if someone is different, “You should treat them nicely, kindly, and give them good respect.”
When I asked Alex to describe one of the best moments of his life, he said it was the time he played with a sea lion at the zoo (you can read the story about it here). He was thrilled when she followed him back and forth in a game of follow-the leader, and enthusiastically cried out, “He likes me!”
I remember that while I watched their beautiful interaction it touched my heart in a bittersweet way to see him so happily engaged. It was in stark contrast to all the times that he came back into our house crying after struggling to play outside with the children in our neighborhood. Peer relationships can be difficult for Autistic children, and they are often ostracized and bullied.
(I feel the need to clear up some common misconceptions about the video, because in the past there have been some surprisingly hurtful and judgmental comments: • It was shared with Alex’s permission. • The only reason I was calling out things like, “Go left… STOP!” was so that we could test if the sea lion was really following him. I wasn’t trying to micromanage my son’s play. • Finally, I did not ignore my other son and push him aside so that Alex could be in a video. They each had a turn playing with her alone, Alex simply happened to be first and I happened to film it. After that all three of them frolicked for a good half hour.)
Alex and I decided to publicly share the video in an effort to promote Autism acceptance, & to educate others in the hopes that they would reach out and be a friend to someone with Autism. It ended up spreading to websites and television shows all over the world, and Alex is proud that he helped make the world a kinder place and made people smile.
Speaking of smile, here he is with an adorable grin the day he lost his first tooth.
I am incredibly proud of my little Ninja. Just look at that face! This sweet boy has good days and bad days, just like the rest of us. What he needs from you is a caring heart and an open mind. Alex is awesome just the way he is, Autism and all.
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