Today is World Autism Awareness Day, but to the families of the 700,000+ people around the world with Autism, it’s just Wednesday.
For those of us who live the life of the 1 in 68, we don’t need to be made more aware. Today people will speak of us and to us and some, like Autism Speaks, will even try to speak for us. Blue lights will be flipped on and money will be raised and a call to action will be repeated, and to be honest, even though my whole heart disagrees with those like Suzanne Wright, we will gladly accept the spotlight, even if it’s just for a few hours in the middle of our week.
But to us, it will still just be a Wednesday. A day that will be full of struggles, oh believe me we will struggle, but it will also be full of so many incredible successes. And my hope is that instead of listening to someone try to speak for Autism, we would be able to hear Autism speak.
On this Wednesday, somewhere, because of the work of parents and therapists and people who have devoted their whole lives to helping an autistic child to find their voice, a parent will hear their child speak for the very first time. And still others won’t. There are parent’s all over who will never give up hope that those words will come, but who will move forward anyway, constantly finding new ways to connect with their kids. For those parents, the celebrating might not come on this Wednesday, but it will come.
Today in Autism centers and public schools and living rooms, a child on the spectrum will do something that they couldn’t do on Tuesday and while others who haven’t experienced a child with autism might look on and feel saddened by how long it has taken or overwhelmed by the long list of all the things that child still can’t do, those parents will celebrate. And there will still be more work to be done. More milestones to achieve. There will always be more that can be done, but we don’t measure our lives by how far we still have to go, but by how far we have come.
Today, a teenager on the spectrum will sit around a lunch table at school and laugh and make jokes and do all the things that teenagers do. It will be harder for them than other kids, having to concentrate on making sure they are noticing the social cues and figuring out when to speak and when to listen, but they will do it. And tonight at the dinner table, just like lots of other teenagers, they won’t gush on and on about it, but the evidence of their success will be written on their face.
This Wednesday, just like the ones before, will be filled with high fives and hugs and stickers and smiles . Facebook messages and Instagram pictures and Skype’s will go out all around this big round globe by parents who don’t want you to recognize us on this day for missing pieces to an already broken puzzle, but who want to shout about their kid’s accomplishments from the roof tops.
And, if even for even just a few seconds, all of us who have been there will stand up on our chairs and we will cheer and clap and celebrate with them. Just like they say it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to raise a child with Autism and in this village, we celebrate often.
I guess I can understand why someone like Suzanne Wright would think that our situations are bleak. That we are broken. That as parents we feel only despair. I guess I can understand why she would speak of our kids as those who are hopelessly lost, those who are gravely ill. I guess that maybe it’s just that in trying to lead Autism Speaks, she forgot to listen.
On this Wednesday, Autism will speak.
It will speak of celebrations and victories and milestones and dreams that even the most brilliant of minds couldn’t fathom. It will speak of stories of children and teenagers and adults who will never, ever accept that different means less than or not enough of. It will speak of community. It will speak of passion. It will speak with a voice that can be heard and with a voice that sometimes can only sometimes be seen.
To the rest of the world who looks on, thank you for seeing us today. Thank you for taking a second to stop and notice us for all the things that we are. And maybe tomorrow, when the blue lights have been turned off and the world is on to recognizing someone else on their special day, come and sit with us awhile. Spend some time with us out of the spotlight because, after all, our kids don’t need it to shine.