The Day a Sea Lion Wanted to Play: Autism Acceptance in Unexpected Places

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We all want to feel happy, connected, and accepted. Sometimes that is found in ways we least expect.

One late winter day my family visited the zoo in Washington, D.C. It was early and we had the underwater viewing area at the sea lion exhibit all to ourselves. My youngest son had on a jacket with contrasting colors and we noticed it seemed to catch the attention of one particularly curious sea lion. I starting recording as the two darted back and forth on opposite sides of the glass, and she followed his every move. When my son realized what was going on he joyfully cried out, “She likes me!”

My son is *Autistic, and social interaction as well as playing with other children is sometimes hard and complicated. Some research has shown that children with Autism and other disabilities are actually  2-3 times more likely to be bullied by their peers. They also often find it easier to relate to animals and can connect with them more easily than with people.

My son was thrilled to find a playmate that day and to feel free to be himself. It came so easily. All the sea lion wanted was to play, and nothing else mattered; not social rules, not appearance. Just fun.

We learned later that the sea lion was named Sophie, and she was famous for interacting with her visitors. She accepted all potential playmates equally, but I would wager that few were as enthusiastic as my youngest son. As their game of follow-the-leader continued, he exclaimed, “THIS IS THE BEST THING OF MY LIFE!”
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Autism Acceptance for Awesome Alex

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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.”

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A VERY Not Boring Birthday!

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