According to the Autism society website (http://www.autism-society.org/about-autism/facts-and-statistics.html), I percent of children in the U.S. from age 3-17 have an autism spectrum disorder. The prevalence is estimated at 1 in 88 births. It is estimated that 1 to 1.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder. Autism also appears to be the fastest growing developmental disability.
No, it is not a contest, and I only mention statistics at all to draw attention to the fact that autism isn’t in the closet anymore. I have done only a small amount of research, and by no means do I profess any extensive knowledge about any disorders in the autism spectrum. It just alarms me how…common autism now seems to be and I wish desperately there was something we could, as a society, do about it. That may not be the immediate case, but what we can do is be aware of the fact that we’re talking about people who have the right to be treated like anyone else.
The website I mentioned above has a lot of good information about what is going on, as does http://www.autismspeaks.org, and I highly recommend taking a look at either or both of those sites if you want to know more about specifics.
What I wanted to talk about today is people. I read just yesterday an open letter that a restaurant manager posted to the parents of an autistic girl that had taken her to the restaurant that he was the manager of. Apparently, some people had complained about the noises the young lady was making, and had expected the manager to move the family somewhere else, and from the way the manager described it, it looked as if the family of the autistic girl did, too. He didn’t, though, and instead treated the family with dignity and respect, and ended up giving the girl a high 5 instead of moving her.
It made me think of how difficult it must be for the parents of autistic children to take their kids out in public. Not because of the kids being embarrassing (they’re not), or even because they might cause a disturbance (sometimes they do), but because when they do, they often have to deal with not just sideways glances, but outright hostility from people who have no idea what the situation feels like. Often, the child in question is the size and strength of an adult, which makes can make things even more untenable every once in a while.
No, I do not have autistic children, so I don’t really know either. Yet I believe I do have at least some inkling, because of my niece.
She is ridiculously smart, and is a great daughter to my sister as well as mother of a autistic child, who is, I believe, almost entirely non-verbal, and from the time I have spent with her, seems to have some occasional trouble interacting with people socially (so do I, for what that’s worth). I do not know my great-niece very well now (she is a teenager), but I remember one particular interaction that sticks in my mind from when she was much younger. I was attending my niece’s college graduation from SDSU, and her boyfriend and I were standing on either side of my great-niece. She was (and is) this completely adorable little girl with startlingly beautiful eyes. She looked up at me, and she looked up at her father, and she reached up with both hands for us to swing her, which we did. We swung her until she started to get heavy, and we watched my niece graduate. I know it isn’t much, but I still treasure that memory. Sadly, my niece’s former boyfriend passed away suddenly just a few short years ago, which left my niece the single mother of a profoundly autistic daughter.
A word or two about my niece. We grew up together (she is 5 years younger than me), and she was always more like a little sister than anything else. I remember many family trips to Disneyland, and vacations, and sometimes just spent watching TV and talking about books. I always loved her company, and I believe I still would if we but lived a little closer than almost 200 miles away.
Over the years, I witnessed and sometimes just heard about the various problems which arise with any child, but are especially difficult for the parent of a child with an autism spectrum disorder. My niece has borne everything that comes her way with remarkable strength and resiliency—some of which I believe comes from the wonderful mother my sister was (and is).
Most of it, though, is I believe all her. She is truly a hero to me, and even though I don’t see her or her daughter or my sisters as much as I’d like, I love them very much and think about them and pray for them often. My great-niece is now a high-schooler and my niece is understandably proud of her daughter’s accomplishments. She should be—Ashley has come a very long way, which she would not have been able to do had my niece given up on her like so many parents do. She’s grown into a happy and beautiful young woman, who loves her mom, and her grandma, music, and trips to Disneyland. She also shares my passionate love for nachos, and she is not afraid to let you know what she likes and does not like.
I mention them personally only because people need to know that every autistic child they see is a person just like they are, with a family behind them just like theirs. They enjoy things, and do not enjoy others. They may have difficulty expressing and controlling their impulses to do things at times, but they deserve a little compassion and understanding because they are trying, and so are their parents. So when you see a parent or parents some place who is struggling with their child, instead of complaining to anyone, maybe just think about it for a second, and then buy them a dessert or something.
They need a break, just like you do.