Today is World Autism Awareness Day.
It’s a special day. It’s like every other day.
Paradox, contradictory truths, counterparts. There are many in my life. I bet you could say the same. Consider this:
· Autism is something to worry about. Autism is something to celebrate.
· People with autism often see the world in “black and white.” People with autism often see a spectrum of complexity in the world that we who are neuro-typical miss.
· People on the spectrum need to be taught how to engage with society. Society needs to be taught how to engage with people on the spectrum.
· My child with autism needs attention that my typical child does not. My typical child needs attention that my child with autism does not.
· My son will always need me to advocate for him. My son needs me to back off so he can advocate for himself.
I can’t help thinking of paradox when I consider autism. And as I celebrate World Autism Awareness today, for the rest of the month and, in truth, for the rest of my life, I look at both the universal and personal paradoxes that cannot be avoided.
My son is passing quickly through adolescence, and I don’t write much about him anymore. It’s not because I have nothing to say – no worries to confess, no frustrations to vent, no wonders to praise. It’s because he is becoming a man and I have to back away slowly, respecting his privacy and his independence. This, by itself, is a paradox. I have to let go, but always hang on. I have to continue to protect and guide. I have to let him fall. I’m scared to death; I’m hopeful.
When we consider autism in our own lives, we can certainly see what neuropsychologists list as the traits, characteristics, or signs of autism. But they are not part of a list for us. They blend together, making up the totality of a wonderful young man created in the image of God. And then we can’t see any “disorder” at all. We see perfection and we open our hearts, learning to see things his way instead of the other way around.
And though we focus on autism today, it is not just for those on the spectrum. It’s for their families too. We have a neuro-typical daughter who is affected by autism every day. She loves her brother so much, she probably always will be. And when we see the beauty of a soul living on the spectrum, how can we not see the beauty of the one who lives next door? The give and take between them, the times when gentleness is needed, but only paired with harsh truth. As parents we celebrate the complexity in each of our children. Their triumphs and talents. Their humanity. Their souls. The way they are independently, the way they are together.
Even when you consider the word autism, itself, you find paradox. At its Greek root, it means a “self” “state of being.” Today, I can’t help thinking that’s the biggest paradox of all. Because whether you have autism or love someone who does, whether you are high functioning or nonverbal, whether you have Asperger’s or PDD/NOS, the purpose of World Autism Awareness Day is to tell you: you are NOT all by yourself. You are not alone. We are with you and support you – both in those things that you wish to improve, and those things that we would never see changed – not for all the world.