I'm a lover of words, coffee and tequila. Lucky to be living my happily ever after as a wife and mom to two sweet kiddos and one crazy dog.

Stepping on my soap-box...just for a moment

      In my easter basket, among many other Easter goodies, was Jodi Picoult's (admittedly my guiltiest of pleasures) new novel "House Rules". I have already devoured 152 delicious pages (since yesterday, yes I have a problem. Andrew did have to tell me to stop reading in the car). I have been looking forward to reading this since I heard of its plot- a young man with autism who is enthralled by anything involving forensics and is subsequently accused of murder.

     Autism. This is a loaded word. Let me first explain that autism lies on a broad spectrum of symptoms, behaviors and syndromes. Some people with autism are extremely high-functioning, able to communicate, live relatively independently & have stable jobs (Check out Temple Grandin's story- pretty amazing) while some never speak, never venture outside of themselves.  The comment I hear most often about autism, from people who don't have any experience with it is "There were no kids with autism when I was growing up".  I beg to differ. These children were likely institutionalized. Considered mentally retarded. Or classified as "savants". Remember that kid that was ridiculously good at math- but couldn't hold a conversation with you in the lunchroom? Or maybe you just recognized that there was something a little off, a social-awkwardness you couldn't quite place. There is not yet a conclusive "cause" of autism, but several studies have noted clear neuroanatomy differences in people with autism. Consider the fact that just because there we didn't have a label or the vocabulary for Alzheimers disease until 1906, or MS until 1900- didn't mean it didn't exist.  Autism does in fact, exist. If you don't believe me, I challenge you to spend some time speaking with, stepping into the shoes of a parent who has a truly autistic child. A child who is  locked in their own world, obsessed with spinning the wheels of their toy trucks. A child who can't look you in the eye and who squirms out of your hugs. A child who has a meltdown at the top of a ferris wheel and tries to jump out because they realize they are sitting in a purple seat and the color purple terrifies them. A child who simply refuses to speak at all. I've seen these situations, these children, first hand. 

  I will also be the first person to admit that autism has become the "disease du jour". It seems to be everywhere you turn, with numbers of diagnosed children sky-rocketing. Some of this has to do with awareness. Some of this has to do with the ease&availability of information on the internet- parents who do their own research and then push medical professionals to make a diagnosis. Sadly, most of this has to do with the simple fact that in order for children to qualify for services, be it within the school system, or in the early intervention realm- they need to have a label. Autism, more so than "developmental delayed" or "learning disabled", qualifies a child for a wealth of services that they would otherwise be unable to receive. Not all of these children are truly autistic and it is unfortunate that this serious issue has been tainted by the overabundance of current diagnoses, as well as the panic over mercury in vaccines and so-called "miracle cures/diets" touted by celebrities. It's my personal opinion that a person is never truly "cured" of autism, but can be taught compensatory strategies to overcome the struggles associated with autism, but that is a whole other post for another day. 

   So when you find yourself frustrated at the overabundance of autism awareness campaigns, rolling your eyes when the Toys-R-Us cashier asks you to donate a dollar to Autism Speaks. or feeling uncomfortable with the child in the grocery line who is flapping his hands & communicating through a Dyna-Vox- stop to consider for a moment what these parents go through every day. An excellent, poignant example of this is the piece "Welcome To Holland", which chronicles the mourning process a parent undoubtedly goes through. When a person becomes pregnant, they expect & plan for a perfect, healthy, "normal" child. Imagine if this journey of parenthood wasn't at all what you were expecting?
 Autism is an issue & an important one. It merits consideration & awareness. It requires educated, motivated and talented interventionists, pediatricians and professionals and I am thrilled to say I know several people personally who have been touched in some way by this disorder and have chosen to dedicate their professional lives to working with children with autism. It requires, as Jodi Picoult's book has already started to suggest, a level of awareness in the general public, because the social-avoidance behaviors sometimes associated with autism can present like guilt during criminal proceedings, or become problematic to emergency personal called to the scene of an accident. 

  I have had the pleasure & challenge of working with numerous children with autism and they have all challenged me to grow & learn as an individual. Their parents have been some of the strongest people I've met as well as the best imaginable advocates for their children- but they wouldn't have to be if we all took a chance to learn a little bit more about the challenges they & their children face- as well as learned to appreciate the unique things that make them special & valuable assets to our society. 

  Phew! Thanks for reading along with me. Maybe now you'll have a little something to share when someone says " I don't think Autism is real" or "Why can't they just get their children to behave?" Food for thought, for sure. 

I believe...

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