I've had the pleasure of supporting and serving individuals with autism and developmental disabilities for over 35 years. In all that time, I've learned a significant lesson: individuals with autism and developmental disabilities are no different than anyone else--only the specifics differ. Allow me to explain.
One of the defining symptoms of autism is detachment and lacking eye contact. But in this day and age of video games and social media, I find many people detached.
For example, when I observe children and even adults playing their plethora of video games, they are totally and often unusually focused on playing those games---are they detached? When someone who is texting on the street and bumps into me because he is totally absorbed with texting and not watching where he is going---is he detached? Is the athlete who engages in his/her own ritualistic routines and repetitive patterns prior to each game and stands apart from other teammates--detached?
Another defining symptom of many individuals with autism is a preoccupation with certain activities, events and topics. When a former neighbor of mine liked watching Sci-Fi movies and could not wait for the new Star Trek film to be released was he any different than the individual with autism who also likes to keep watching Sci-Fi films like Star Trek over and over again? Or when hundreds of people line up for several days prior to the release of a new tech product or film are they any different than the individual with autism who also anxiously awaits the release of the same product or film?
My day starts with my walking to the store, buying several newspapers and then going to the diner for breakfast. After breakfast, I workout. I also try to take several long walks each day. One many occasions, I usually follow the same 3 or 4 routes. I've been doing this routine for over 40 years now even though I've lived in 8 different states and 3 different countries. Within 2-3 days of moving to a new area, I'm already fixed to that routine. It's often said individuals with autism like routines and sameness. Well, so do I-- as do millions of other people who do NOT have autism ( or do they?. It is believed by some professionals and researchers that we are all on the autism spectrum. I'm sure my clinician friends might feel I need some type of intervention for my behavior:).
I can go on and on listing examples of other stereotypical behaviors that are not specific only to individuals with autism, irritability and aggression come to mind. That's not really my point. My point is to show the basic humanity of those who have autism--they are not much different than any of us.
SallieTisdale, author and mother of a young woman with autism, upon hearing from a friend who told Tisdale about his teenage daughter's unexpected health problem and telling Tisdale, "It's such a tragedy." Tisdale replied, "Don't say that...Don't ever say to her, and don't say to yourself, that there is any tragedy in who she is. She is what she is." (Reader's Digest).
So, after all these years, I've come to this conclusion: Autism is not only a part of being human. Autism is us.
Important Pending Legislation:
Congressman John Larson of CT. and Walter Jones of N.C. recently introduced bipartisan legislation that would provide assistance to our military families so they can receive necessary interventions for dependents with autism. The name of the bill is "The Caring for Military Kids with Autism Act" or HR 2288. Write or email your legislators to show your support for HR 22288 (Autism Society).
National Autism Conference. Penn State. August 1-4, 2011. Contact #: 814.863.5100.
Back to School: Autism/Asperger's Conference. Pasadena Convention Center. August 19-21, 2011. Featured speaker: Dr. Temple Grandin, Ph.D. Contact #: 562.804.5516.
Upcoming Autism Events:
- The Ohio Ride for Autism. July 30, 2011. Contact #: 614.580.7300.
- 4th Ride For Autism. August 6, 2011. Los Angeles to San Diego. Contact#: 562.688.0449 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Football & Cheerleading Camp for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Sunday, August 22, 2011. Columbus, OH. Contact #: 614.875.7384.
4 YOUR BOOKSHELF:
The Autism Acceptance Book: Being a Friend to Someone With Autism by J. Newman.
The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger's by Temple Grandin, Ph.D.