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What Does Autism Look Like?
If you want to know what an autistic child looks like, look at your own child or grandchild.
Look at the children who live next door to you and take a glimpse at every child you walk past on the street. These could very well be the faces of autism. There is no visible indication that a child is affected by this disturbing neurological disorder.
Autism is the king of all tricksters. I know this to be true because whenever my husband and I take our son to the store or doctor’s office, the looks of disgust we receive in response to his unruly behavior never let up. Unless we inform someone, and we always have to, no one has a clue that he is autistic.
When our ten requests for Darius to “settle down” won’t get through to him, when he is climbing on chairs or is having a screaming fit, people continue to stare through us with questions of, “Why won’t they do something about him?” or “If that were my child I’d really handle him.”
From time to time, I find myself getting upset about the glares from individuals who would never think autism is the culprit. There have even been occasions when I’ve had to get a little nasty with those brave souls who dared to make a rude comment or stare for just a little longer than necessary. But, after all of the annoyance and rude exchanges, autism still lingers. It seems to me the only thing left to do is educate rather than disassociate.
So, what exactly is autism? A lot of people I’ve crossed paths with have no clue as to what this disorder is and are quick to misconstrue the meaning of autistic with ‘artistic’.
Autism doesn’t have anything to do with the arts; our children are extremely talented, but artistic and autistic are two different things.
Autism (pronounced awe-tizem) is an illness that affects social and communication skills. Some Autistic children have a hard time playing with others and making friends and some can’t talk. Many autistic children display behaviors that may include: repetitively pouring liquids from cup to cup, spinning around and not getting dizzy, not wanting to be touched or hugged, lining up toys and screaming for hours. Of course, every Autistic child is different. There are varying levels of this disorder and that’s why it is called a ‘spectrum’.
My seven-year old, who is on the low end of the spectrum is nonverbal and is only able to show me what he wants by taking me to it or bringing a picture to me. The fact that he can’t communicate is the reason for most of his severe temper tantrums.
Imagine for a moment being frustrated, but not being able to express why. Imagine you have a toothache, but you’re not able tell anyone. Think how you would feel if you really wanted affection, but a simple stroke of your skin caused physical pain.
These are a few of the things my son must face and because of this, I have become determined to put up a good fight for his life.
Right now, no one expert has been able to confirm what causes autism, but one thing is certain: bad parenting IS NOT the cause of this impairment. Unfortunately, you still have some who are ready and willing to wave the idea around that a parent can inflict autism onto their child. There are a few people I know who are still quick to say that there is nothing wrong with my son and he only needs to be disciplined. Although such an accusation hurts deeply, I now understand that it doesn’t matter who the person is or how well educated they may think they are on the subject of autism; no one can truly comprehend what it’s like to raise an autistic child unless they are raising one themselves.
I’ve recently come to the conclusion that there is nothing I can do about those who frown upon us. Autism is a part of my family’s life and it forever will be. A long time ago I accepted that we don’t fit into an ordinary mold; we do what we can to get over the next challenge that autism presents to us.
So far, my husband and I have laughed in Autism’s face while celebrating our eight-year old’s honor roll status and our seven-year old finally waving hello and goodbye. We’ve shown and proved that autism will not come in between our dreams of normalcy and happiness.
Still, there will forever be a battle to win with those who feel a disability is only a disability when it screams out at you from a wheelchair. There will always be one individual who thinks a good whipping is the only cure needed for an autistic child.
Sadly, for the millions of parents who know better, we can only continue to do what we do best: love and support our children. Nobody else will. We are the keepers of disappointment when we find that medical insurance does not cover highly expensive and much needed behavior therapy. We are the proactive and often angry parents questioning why sensory integration and assistive technology aren’t incorporated into our children’s individual education plan (IEP).
And some of those children are the ones you see in the grocery store shrieking at the top of their lungs or darting off nonstop at a moment’s notice. So please, don’t be quick to judge the parents. Looks are very deceiving. Take into account that it may not just be bad behavior; it may be autism.