1. Embrace an attitude of acceptance for who they are rather than who we would like them to be. Kids with autism get reminded everyday of their weaknesses. We are starting to see some terrific programs emerging, but they are few and far between. All too often these kids are sent the message that they don’t belong. They don’t belong in their school, they don’t belong in the store, they don’t belong in the restaurant – and if they want to belong they need to be different. Everyone wants to be accepted for who they are and these kids are no different. If you get the chance to spend time with any of these great kids, let them be themselves. They will feel it even if you don’t say it and it will mean more than you can imagine. You’ll be glad you did.
The second part of this is patience. When you see that screaming kid with the bad mother, take a breath and make sure it is what you think it is. It might be a kid with autism who has taken in so much stimulation that he’s lost control and is probably scared to death. That mom knows it would be easier to leave him at home, but she goes out anyway. She endures the embarrassment, the anxiety, the looks of disapproval, and the occasional comments because she loves her child, and this is just part of the deal.
2. Give up the R word. I know – it’s just an expression. But every time we hear someone say “retard” or “retarded” we are reminded of how the world sees our children. The reality is that the term ‘mental retardation’ is still used and is often a required classification for badly needed resource eligibility. It doesn’t matter that you would never say it directly to kids with developmental disabilities; the word will still find them. If adults say it, kids will say it. It’s so common that most people separate the intent from the people the word is associated with. But let’s call it what it is; a comparison to people like my son. There has not been a time during the past five years when I’ve heard that word and not seen the face of my boy. I imagine him asking me, “What is retarded?” and wonder how I’ll handle it. I worry that it has already happened but he doesn’t have the language skills to tell me. I accept that families like ours are overly sensitive about this issue. If you knew how much time we spend thinking about how to protect these sweet, vulnerable kids, you would understand why. I can protect him from a lot of things at this age, but I can’t protect him from that word.
3. Light it up Blue. This is an easy one. The month of April is Autism Awareness Month. A blue porch light at your house does a couple things. It helps spread awareness, which really is the first step to educating people about the fastest growing developmental disability in the nation. Maybe people will see the blue light and ask some questions or do some research. The second thing it does is it sends a really cool message of solidarity. It’s very common for families to eventually give up the fight and isolate themselves from the world. The blue light reminds them that they aren’t alone and there are people out there who understand.
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. - Albert Einstein