Light Through a Prism: Reflections on the Spectrum
Alot has happened in the six or seven years since my world changed and suddenly included the word “autism” in my daily conversations. My free time became devoted to reading books and articles on autism. I had to sort through the building tension regarding vaccines and whether or not they could be the source of my son’s disability. I had to try to understand how to help a child with autism learn, and I had to become a lobbyist on his behalf and on behalf of others with autism in an effort to ensure that schools also learn the best ways to teach children with autism.
The push for autism awareness has helped a lot. More programs, more services and less explaining.
But for all the awareness, I realized recently that even my own view of autism has always been, well, what it can only be: a limited perspective from the small perch of my life. I knew about the “spectrum” of autism, but I became aware that I really had only a vague idea of what that spectrum encompasses. That changed one day last summer when I picked my son up at a summer camp for children with autism and their typically developing siblings and peers. That day, I saw the full spectrum right before my eyes.
Children of every ability –non-verbal and hyper-verbal, super smart and cognitively challenged, “elopers” and clingers. Helpers and those who need help. This is autism.
It drove home right then the great challenge for teachers, for families, and for the development of true understanding by those not directly affected. How can one child with autism who’s intellectually gifted and can carry on a conversation, however stilted, have the same disorder as the child who cannot say a word and needs help getting dressed in the morning? Reconciling the two is a tall order for anyone, even those whose families are already living with autism.
Understanding the spectrum is one of the challenges of autism. My story is not the same as that of the mother of the boy who sits next to my son in school. They both have autism. It looks completely different on one than it does on the other.
Deborah and I believe that there is much to be celebrated about the unique perspectives of people with autism, wherever they may land on the so-called spectrum. We recognize that there are many who may never paint or make music, but they inspire us nonetheless — just by being. They open our eyes to alternate ways of looking at the world … they teach us to listen, to work on our understanding, to be patient and loving. We are better for their existence among us.
No doubt we cannot force compassion and understanding on this or any issue. But by celebrating the intrinsic value of each person with autism we have the potential to bring about a change in attitude. Perhaps your child, like mine, shows no indication of ever becoming a Rembrandt or Hemingway. Yet unquestionably, your child – like mine – is a treasure.
I, for one, won’t give up hope that one day soon the world will embrace these precious gifts.