Autism: Our Journey from Awareness to Acceptance
By: Dr. George Farmer
It’s incredible how time flies. My wife and I sat in the neurologist’s office just four years ago as our son was assessed for autism. The signs were evident; I was finally past the point of denial and ready to accept the diagnosis of autism. For me, I was aware of autism, but the journey to acceptance was not easy.
At birth, I was confident in my son’s milestones as at three days old; he would lay on his belly and hold his head up without assistance. At just seven months, he began to walk, which quickly turned into running. With the biggest smile, he would look into our eyes, laugh, smile, and want to play all day and night.
While our son was growing and developing, we were unaware of the shift that would slowly begin.
At his first birthday party, we planned a big birthday celebration at a hands-on activity center with live exhibits for children. The private party room was filled with family and friends that wanted to show their love for our son. It was surprising that our son would cry when we entered the party room with our guests. The crying was so loud and persistent that I had to take him out of the room, which was the only way he would stop crying, but me being a new parent, I just assumed he was tired and was not in the mood for partying.
Months following, we noticed our son would cry for extended periods at night nonstop. Again, I assumed we just had to wait it out, but my wife had the intuition to know this was not typical behavior for a baby. As time progressed, my wife noticed his language was not developing into complete sentences, but again I believed that maybe his progress was a little delayed.
Our next journey was introducing our son to daycare at age three. Daycare was a difficult stage as our son would only take to one teacher, he would not nap, he would not use the potty until he got home, and typically would not interact with the other students. One teacher tried to discuss how there were signs of autism. We decided to change daycares for various reasons thinking a new daycare would provide the care and attention we knew he needed.
Daycare two had more success than the first; however, there was one glaring moment. Pre-kindergarten graduation was an eye-opening moment for me when my son was glued to his teacher and when side by side with his peers, there was a significant difference in his actions and expressive and receptive language. Before this moment, my wife was ready to have him evaluated, but it was that very moment when I moved from awareness to acceptance.
The facts are that in 2010, 1 in 125 children were diagnosed with autism, and just ten years later, 1 in 59 were diagnosed. The numbers take a whole new meaning when one of your children is diagnosed.
We learned quickly that the diagnosis of autism was not just a diagnosis for our son, but rather a diagnosis for the family as autism affects all family members. While autism is a spectrum disorder that encompasses a wide range, no two cases of autism are the same. The spectrum is often thought to be linear, but it is more circular, with strengths varying depending on the person. The saying is true, “if you meet one person with autism, you’ve only met one person with autism.”
Through the years, television has created stereotypical views of autism. It has become difficult to break down the walls that believe all people with autism behave, speak, and think alike. I recall a conversation when someone insinuated that my son needed to be “changed.” The only necessary change is how the outside world views people diagnosed with autism.
We love every distinction that makes our son unique. We celebrate the incredible strides he has made with school, including his development in expressing his feelings, emotions, and thoughts. We even enjoy the playful banter he has with his brother and sister that often leads to arguments. We couldn’t imagine our lives any different and are equally proud of all our children.
The fact is every person with autism deserves the same care, love, attention, and rights as any other person.
Gone are the days of apprehension of going out to eat, enrolling our son in recreational sports, flying on planes, or enjoying any other functions and activities that children enjoy.
While I applaud Autism Month, the reality is autism is 365 days a year. Therefore, the battle for inclusivity is ongoing; beyond April, our community will continue to fight for awareness, acceptance, and inclusiveness in the schools, community, and workplace, but we need your support.
How to Support the Autism Community
Acceptance – Embrace individuals of all ages to welcome people with autism. Children with autism are more likely to be excluded and treated harshly by their peers.
Understanding- There are no two cases of autism that are the same; therefore, each individual’s needs are specific. Discover the unique preferences and needs of individuals diagnosed with autism.
Time – Time is valuable and can mean more than one can imagine. Take time to research to become educated about autism. There are numerous amounts of misinformation, and it is essential to be informed accurately.
Inclusivity – Be the voice to declare equal opportunity and access. Every opportunity should include options of inclusion for individuals with autism. Where inclusivity is absent, raise awareness for the need.
Support – Some families need support through conversation or other means, but one will never know unless the time is taken to engage in conversation. In other instances, research is ongoing for the causes of autism in various walks, runs, and events, when possible contribute through finances or partaking in the events.
Mindfulness- Be cognizant of the stares and glares. Remember that sensory can be intensified when in public, leading to challenging moments for individuals with autism and their families. There is no need to be afraid or be in fear but be mindful that comments and stares can have damaging effects.
What my wife and I learned most through our journey is our son can and will be a successful contributor to the world diagnosed with autism. We are grateful to be his parents and will advocate for him and all diagnosed with autism. As we proudly and boldly raise awareness and acceptance during April, our voices and actions for autism advocacy are year-round.