Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Autism Awareness Month?

April is the cruelest month. I believe that line is attributed to Shakespeare. It has always been a difficult month for me, a time where my depression flares. In the post before this one, I talked some about this--why the ambient energy of springtime seems to trigger my anxiety. I may never understand it, but life has gotten easier now that I can prepare for it.

So April is the cruelest month. It has also been named "Autism Awareness Month." And many activist autism parents would characterize autism itself as cruel--a 'devastating disease' that 'robs' them of 'their child'.

I find that attitude, along with the yellow puzzle ribbon, and autism awareness month itself disquieting.

How could I be robbed of a child I did not have? My son is who he is. He is not some changeling child left in the place of some idealized NT child. His thoughts wind around a brain wondrously complex and creative. He is a puzzle in the way any pre-adolescent child is a puzzle to his or her parent.

I don't have a yellow autism ribbon on my car, nor do I pay attention to autism awareness month (except with an annoyed confusion). How can I ever not be aware of autism and how it has shaped my life and the life of my son, my whole family?

I am aware of autism everytime I step into the grocery store with its harsh flourescent lighting, the visual clutter, the overwhelming array of choices in the cereal isle alone!

Autism is my shadow in every social interaction when I replay each conversation in my mind attempting to assess my performance: Did I say the right things? Did I make enough eye contact? Too much contact? Did I let the other person speak enough times? Was my body language appropriate?

Autism is there when life overloads me with conflicting tasks and I struggle to sort out what I must do from what I can do. It is a companion when I ache to comfort my son after some subtle but nasty episode of bullying at middle school.

Autism colors our lives, but it doesn't disfigure them. It makes many aspects of living in the world more difficult, but it brings gifts and boons. My fascination with words, my son's abiding passion and patience for animals and conservation are also part of autism.

So for me, the irony is that the NT world thinks we need an Autism Awareness month when in fact it is that same world that never lets me forget I am *other*.