In Australia, this April is busy. You may have played a joke on your mates for April Fools day, you will be gearing up for Easter and Anzac day, both of which fall this month and perhaps planning trips or time away to coincide with the abundance of public holidays that are crammed together. But over the coming weeks perhaps we should also spare a thought for the fact that April is Autism Awareness Month. For me personally this issue is one close to home. A good friend has a son who is autistic and I’ve seen the struggles and pressures that it has put on my friend and her family first hand. It’s taken its toll in more ways than one. It’s created financial pressures, been an emotional roller coaster for all the family- immediate and extended, incredibly time consuming and most of all a learning curve that was steeper than she or her husband could ever have imagined.
But she’s not alone. Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) has estimated that about 1 in 70 Australians are on the autism spectrum; that is around 230,000 people. It is four times more common in boys than girls.
The main areas of difficulty for people with autism are in social and communication skills and restricted or repetitive behaviours.
I won’t pronounce to say I know much about Autism or the symptoms or the diagnosis or the long term outcomes associated with it. What I will say are borrowed words. They are from my friend who lives and breathes it every day alongside her 3-year-old son who is autistic. Today I received this message from her. It read:
‘Friends, it is autism awareness month and as such firstly I wanted to thank you all for supporting us in the last 6 months. I have felt lost, devastated, highly stressed and rudderless. You have all been amazing. I thought I would share some of my thoughts 6 months in for awareness and, most importantly, acceptance of autism.
1. Wording matters: Henry is autistic, he doesn’t have autism. The second infers he has a disease and can be cured. The first makes it part of his identity and who he is.
2. I have come to accept that autism will increase our challenges but it has also given us so many positives. My focus on the family is my absolute priority, my acceptance of diversity in the community has increased and I’m so much more aware of a variety of communication options other than verbal.
3. Not judging children or families. Everyone is doing his or her best. If Henry has a meltdown he can’t help it. I would hope other families don’t judge Henry or me when we are out and he loses it- we are doing our best and luckily I don’t care what others think.
4. I am no longer devastated. I have a beautiful boy and we will discover his strengths and support him to be the best person he can be and supporting his autistic traits like stimming (repetitive behaviours like shaking hands, running up and down that help calm him and make him feel good).
Thank you all again for your support. You have all been amazing’.
No, my friend. It’s you who have been amazing and to all those families out there who are somehow touched by autism, no doubt you are all amazing and, like my friend, doing the best job you can.