I’ve heard or read all of the above emotion-laden comments (and many more) over the years. Since April is Autism Awareness Month, in the next several weeks we’ll likely witness a variety of events, news stories, research updates, and reminders of the realities facing families and individuals affected by this diagnosis. The value of increased awareness goes far beyond the one in 88 people who carry the diagnosis. (New research says it’s now one in 68!) But I hope that we won’t overlook this important truth: that the many children, adolescents, and adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders have contributed greatly to the value of individual lives, had tremendous impact on their families, and profound influence on their teachers, classmates, workplaces, and communities.
As we focus again on autism awareness, I wanted to share some of what I have learned from and come to appreciate about people with autism:
1. They have a unique perspective on life. They see things I miss, they question things I take for granted, and they challenge me to consider different ways of understanding life and those around me. My life is richer because of them.
2. They have a more unbiased approach to people and situations. I carry with me my own expectations, memories, and opinions, which cloud or direct the way I approach life. Their tendency to approach people and situations with a “clean slate,” taking them at face value, is something that continues to have a positive influence on me.
3. They contribute to my knowledge base. Because of people with autism, I know more about trains, elevators, animals, dinosaurs, chickens, music, plants, sports statistics, computers, and Pokemon(TM) than I ever would have otherwise. They have “broadened my horizons”—and our society has also benefited greatly from their interests and contributions!
4. They require me to keep thinking and learning. I have been interacting with people with autism spectrum disorders for about fifteen years. I find that the more I know, the more I need to know. The need for flexibility, new approaches, novel ways to help them understand, and a better grasp on how they view the world drives me toward asking them more questions, reading more books, listening to more professionals in the field, talking to other parents, and trying new strategies. I recognize the tremendous value of this pursuit of understanding for both my personal and professional life.
5. They make great friends! I have numerous friends who are people with ASD. They are loyal, dependable, slow to judge or jump to conclusions, funny, and very knowledgeable. Because of them, I have also made wonderful friends who are teachers, parents, grandparents, and others working to promote social understanding all around the world.
I consider it a privilege to know and learn from so many fine people. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to interact with you each week! Please feel free to email or post comments on our blog.
Thank you for the work you are doing to raise autism awareness, but more importantly, appreciation for the people who are living with autism, and all those who work on their behalf!