Another Autism Awareness/Acceptance/Action month is drawing to a close, and I hope that everyone’s efforts made a difference. This world becomes a better place every time someone new reads about Autism and learns to be more accepting. To close out the month here are this page’s Top Five posts about Autism in the hopes that you might find them helpful. These are the topics that seem to have resonated the most with readers, even years later. I feel honored and overwhelmed that when we share our journey it has the potential to help others.
#5. Autism, Meltdowns, and the Unexpected Kindness of Strangers in a Supermarket. Many years ago, when the Ninjas were very small, we were new to the Autism world and spent a lot of time feeling confused and overwhelmed. A difficult incident happened in a grocery store, but the graciousness and compassion showed to us by the employees there helped us through it. I wrote this piece for the Parents Magazine special needs blog. NOTE: This is a change from the original article that was featured at #5. Because reasons.
There is no shame in Autism. When my son was old enough I wanted to explain his unique brain to him in a positive way, because how you do it is incredibly important and can affect a child’s self-image for the rest of their life. I wrote: “… I had to be very careful with my words and how I presented Autism. There is still so much stigma in attached to special needs, or even to simply being different (not in my mind, but society seems to feel otherwise). I didn’t want him to see himself as flawed, or view his diagnosis as restrictive, limiting his expectations of what he could achieve in life. I did not want the truth to be damaging. I wanted it to be illuminative and empowering. I hoped that having knowledge of Autism would improve his understanding of how his brain works and help him be more patient with himself.” A version of this story also appeared on the website The Mighty.
When my friend Lisa first posted some amazing pictures on Facebook of her son with TV science host Bill Nye I knew it was a story that MUST be told. Her son has Autism and Bill Nye is his special interest. I was thrilled that Michael had the chance to meet his idol, and it made me tear up to see him so happy. I was also incredibly touched that Bill Nye took the time to meet with his young fan. Not every celebrity is willing to meet one-on-one with fans, AND not everyone is comfortable spending time alone with someone who they know is different. I interviewed Lisa and posted the details, and then the local media later approached them for an interview. The whole story still brings a smile to my face.
This the post I am the most proud of. The #1 search that brings new readers to this site is “explaining autism to classmates” or some variation, and this post CONTINUES to help people. As I have said before, I believe honest dialogue about special-needs is crucial to acceptance, and that children can be surprisingly open-minded about diversity and uniqueness. The trick is to explain those differences in a matter-of-fact and positive way, before they can be affected by the prejudices of the world. I have been amazed and touched by the way that my son’s teachers and classmates have rallied around him and practiced INCLUSION in the classroom, and am excited to share tips with other parents and with educators.
And, finally, the story that changed our lives in a dramatic way:
#1. The Story Behind Sea Lion Shadow. Just over a year ago a little video with a big message somehow spread across TV and internet. It all started when my son was watching a sea lion at the zoo and I noticed she was following him through the glass. I started recording and happened to catch his adorably enthusiastic reaction. He still describes it as one of the best moments of his life.
It felt bittersweet to watch them play, because it was in stark contrast to all the times that he came home frustrated after struggling to play outside with the children in our neighborhood. I thought that other special-needs parents could possibly relate to how my heart soared when my son cried out, “She likes me!” Plus I thought it was simply an adorable video.
I talked with the Little Ninja and he agreed to share the video and his story. We hoped that it would help educate others & promote Autism acceptance, and maybe make the world a kinder place. At the very least we hoped it would make people smile. Judging by the number of views that the video received, the countless websites it appeared on, the comments we read, and the people that took the time to come to this blog and learn our story, I think we can say mission accomplished.
(I do feel the need to clear up some common misconceptions about the video: • It was shared with my son’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 the one with Autism could be in a video. They each had a turn playing alone with the sea lion, my youngest simply happened to be first and I happened to film it. After that all three of them frolicked for a good half hour.)
As this month of awareness draws to a close I want to post this final link. I first wrote Be Aware? at the end of a previous Autism Awareness Month. In it I shared a story of something that happened to a NT friend who had read my blog and then witnessed a distraught mother and a child having a meltdown. Her response made me weep, and I wrote, “And so ends yet another April Autism Awareness month. Did it really make a difference? Is anyone more aware?” In light of stories like the one shared by my friend, I think I can say the answer is YES. It encourages me to keep striving, keep fighting, and keep writing. Remember, we must take ACTION all year long. Let’s keep it going PAST April!
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