Wednesday, October 5, 2011

"looks" can be deceiving

There is a saying in the autism community, "Once you've met one child with autism, you've met ONE child with autism." It's so true. There are general characteristics and some will have similarities in their behaviors and challenges, but there is such wide spectrum of presentations in these individuals. It varies which types of behaviors and limitations they have and to what degree they have them. Its frustrating sometimes because people will meet G and then find out he has autism and then make comments like, "He doesn't look like he has autism", "but he's so cute!", or "oh I'm sure he will just grow out of it". Since when was there a "look" to autism? NEVER! The challenging thing for our society is that we 1. the majority of the population doesn't understand what autism is; 2. that we need to get past judging people by their "looks"; and 3. we don't have any credentials to be diagnosing these kids ourselves. I'd love to believe a total stranger when they tell me my son doesn't have autism, I mean I actually had the thought cross my mind for a second about canceling his appointment to be evaluated in order to avoid the diagnosis because he doesn't "look" like he has a disorder. Unfortunately I love my son too much to put my own personal weaknesses and fears ahead of his well-being.

I digress.... the existence of a "look" baffles me. I already find myself becoming numb to the comments because I don't have time or any desire to engage in a counterattack. I'm sure they are just trying to make me feel better. Bless their hearts. Funny and humbling thing happened though. Two weeks ago G started going to a playgroup for children with developmental delays. I'm pretty sure that all the boys, but one have been diagnosed with autism. Even within those 5 boys they have such varying delays and challenges, as well as amazing strengths! We had two days of orientation where Gavin went in and was with the leaders of the playgroup and got a feel for how it would be. It went great! Then the first day with the other kids came. We walked in and G went right on in, no problems, what a relief!

I, however, had an unexpected reaction. I looked around at the other boys, was overwhelmed with their autistic like characteristics, arms flapping and odd social mannerisms and I started to freak out. Then I met the mothers and immediately the thought came to my mind, "Wait a minute, I don't belong here. I don't "look" like these other moms." I continued to have thoughts like we are in such different stages of our lives, they don't have any similar interests that I have, they don't dress like me, they don't have the same level of education that I do or professional career like my husband does. It was all clearly vain and prideful. Don't hate me for these thoughts, I'm being brutally honest. Here I was preaching that we have to get away from this preconceived "look" about autism and I myself was do much worse by judging others and placing myself and G above others because I had more material wealth, more education, a child that maybe didn't "look" like he had autism when some may. It is shameful really! I just didn't feel like I could fit in there. Honestly when I reflect back on that moment, I think it had more to do with accepting that nothing I could do or obtain could influence this point in my life. I couldn't stop G from having autism. I couldn't buy our way out of this or educate myself enough to prevent this. I think it all had to do with accepting this life we've been handed, stepping out of the denial stage of grief and entering a world where more families than just our own are working through the challenges of autism as well. It was, in fact, our first experience with other autistic children around. It was as if my subconscious was doing anything it could to change the reality we were destined for. Shoot I even knew from reading that autism wasn't restricted to socioeconomic status, age, gender, ethnicity, education, etc. And yet, in that moment my ego wasn't willing to accept that I am the mother of a child with autism.

This coming to acceptance, its a strange experience.

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