June 18, 2009

Autism: The “Invisible” Disorder.

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Autism doesn’t have a “look”.

Down Syndrome, Spinal Bifida, and Cerebral Palsy all have one thing in common. They have a “look”. When you encounter a person with one of these different abilities, you can see their uniqueness.

However, if you were to encounter a person with autism, you wouldn’t know that there was more to them than what you see, and for some observers, seeing is believing.

People are often very surprised when I tell them that Nicholas has autism. The typical response is “Really? You can’t tell.”

When did our society turn into a place where your different ability had to be obvious or visible in order to be accepted?

People with autism are misunderstood. Their behaviors are perceived as “odd”, or people see them as “out of control”, or in need of “parental supervision and guidance”. Parents are often accused of not doing “whatever it takes” to cure their children.

What is a parent to do when society awards “normality” and where being different is sometimes frowned upon?

Why do we feel as if we have to “advertise” autism in order to be accepted?

Why do I feel a pang of guilt whenever my son wears his t- shirt that proudly portrays autism as being, “Always Unique Totally Interesting Sometimes Mysterious”?

Why do I feel a pang of guilt for not having a placard on my car that informs people that there is a person with autism “on board”?

Why do I feel a pang of guilt whenever he wears his emergency bracelet which advises emergency personnel of his autism as well as his food and drug allergies?

I often wonder why people don’t take the time to see a person with autism in the same way they see everyone else.

What is it about autism that has people waging wars against it?

Some parents with children on the spectrum are desperately fighting for a cure. They believe autism is an illness. That autism has stolen their child, and it has done away with the “normalness” of their existence.

Autism has made them different.

It is incomprehensible to me how a parent can advocate for awareness while making every attempt to eradicate autism. While they are advocating for modalities that allegedly recover their children from autism, what does this do to the efforts of those of us who are simultaneously advocating for awareness and social acceptance?

Autism has become an “epidemic”.

Perhaps, some may even perceive it as being contagious. Young women are afraid to vaccinate their children for fear that they will “get autism”. Others are merely afraid to have children because they dread the probability of having a child with autism.

Why aren’t other disabilities perceived in the same way?  Apparently, there is greater social acceptance towards disabilities that have “a look”. After all, you “can tell” that the person is different.

Perhaps, it is easier for people to embrace differences because that difference is obvious. Then again, this way of thinking also preserves society’s narrow-mindedness in that everything must be properly labeled and obvious in order to be accepted.

The statistics are not in autism’s favor. Vaccines have been accused, by many in the autism community, as being the sole cause of autism. However, I believe there are other factors that should be taken into consideration. I also feel that society should be better educated in that they receive all points of view regarding possible causation and not just the opinion of some.

Although my son is not considered non-verbal, if he could speak, in traditional format, I wonder what he would say. Would he be saddened by the things people are saying about autism? Would he want to be cured? Would he see himself as broken and in need of repair? Would he choose to do away with the very things that make him different in order to fit in or be accepted?

In my opinion, he is a typical child. He dresses and feeds himself; goes to the bathroom unassisted, brushes his own teeth; and lets me know when he does or does not want something. Of course, he does all of these things in a way that is normal for him.

When I look into his eyes, I don’t see an empty shell nor do I see a person who “isn’t all there”. I see a vibrant boy who’s full of life; I see a boy who is very curious about the world around him.

Why don’t people see my son for who he is and not what he has? He is a loving, affectionate, tender-hearted, sensitive, highly intelligent, artistic, funny, friendly youngster.

His brain may be wired a little differently, and he may do things differently than others, but there’s nothing wrong with him.

Autism is what he is living with. However, it doesn’t define who he is as a person! When I look at my son, I see him.

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