April is Autism Awareness Month

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A boy working with sensory toys as we learn more about Autism Awareness Month
Autism Awareness by Caleb Woods-unsplash
April is Autism Awareness month. This month and every month is a great time to learn more about Autism.

“Your child is on the spectrum – Asperger’s, Autism, 504, IEP.”  As these words swirled around me, all I could think was STOP!  I wasn’t given any time to process the news, much less understand and comprehend what all those words meant. Not even knowing about April being Autism Awareness Month or anything else, I just wanted the specialist to stop telling me all the worst cases scenarios and start telling me how I could support my grandson.

Autism journey and awareness

That day began a journey for my family and my grandson Tristin.  Twelve years ago, my husband and I were granted permanent custody of our granddaughter and grandson.  These amazing people came into our lives full-time. I can say it’s been a journey of joy, fun, challenge, heartache and love–sometimes all in the same day!  They came to us from an unsafe environment.  Shortly after Tristin came into our home, we knew he was struggling.  This little person was scared of going outside, scared of swimming and did not like being touched.  My heart broke every time I tried to do the “normal” things, and he resisted each and every time. Not being able to hold or cuddle Tristin was devasting.  I didn’t know how to soothe him. 

Advocate for Autism

Even though the diagnosis was a punch to the gut, it was my line in the sand. It drove me to become Tristin’s biggest advocate. I was and still am determined that he would not be defined by his disability.  Schooling was a challenge. Yet, he wanted so desperately to learn, play and belong.  We had teachers tell me he couldn’t participate because he didn’t understand. Therefore, they would sit him in a corner.  I was furious, and the school became my lunchtime errand almost every day. However, we also had teachers that went above and beyond to challenge Tristin to do more. I am so thankful for those teachers. They saw my grandson as a person, not a disability! During those times, I watched Tristin grow and thrive!

One of his counselors would email me every week and give me little notes of encouragement:

I just wanted to let you know that Tristin is having a great day! He seems to be having a lot of fun. Every time I see him in the hallway, there are kids saying hi to him!  It has been awesome.

Each time I received a note like this, my grandmama’s heart would burst with joy.  What a great reminder and awareness that our kids with autism need, crave and desire to be encouraged. 

Autism awareness education

I’m so thankful for the support we received from our specialists.  We learned so much during those first few months of PT, OT, and Speech Therapy.  Tristin responded so well to every therapy, and within six months, he was eating solids, running outside and being a “normal” boy.  You may ask why I add quotes to normal?  I don’t care for the word “normal.” Each of us has our own normal. As an advocate, everyone learns normal isn’t determined by a set of stats – but by each of those we serve. Learn who they are and love them just the way they are! Each of us is made in the image of God. “God created humanity in His own image. He created them male and female in the image of God.”  Genesis 1:27

Autism awareness fact sheet

There is so much still unknown about Autism and the cause of Autism, but I found an Autism Fact Sheet from the National Autism Association that I wanted to share.

What is Autism?

  • Autism is a bio-neurological developmental disability that generally appears before the age of 3
  • Autism impacts the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction, communication skills, and cognitive function. Individuals with Autism typically have difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities
  • Autism is diagnosed four times more often in boys than girls. Its prevalence is not affected by race, region, or socioeconomic status. Since Autism was first diagnosed in the U.S. the incidence has climbed to an alarming one in 54 children in the U.S.

Autism Facts and Stats

  • Autism now affects 1 in 54 children; over half are classified as having an intellectual disability or borderline intellectual disability
  • Boys are four times more likely to have autism than girls
  • Autism greatly varies from person to person (no two people with Autism are alike)
  • Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disorder, yet most underfunded
  • Children with Autism do progress – early intervention is key
  • Autism is treatable, not a hopeless condition

Autism awareness month is for all of us

Has life been easy with Tristin–no. But worth it–YES. The day he initiated a hug was one of the best days of my life! He is kind, and he has a servant’s heart. We will see him graduate from high school in May. In addition, he will also have a certificate of completion for construction and will begin work in the summer. 

You may not have a child with Autism, but I’m sure you or your family know someone.  My challenge to you – get involved.  Learn how to support that family, teach your children to be kind and to be inclusive.  If you see a teacher going above and beyond, celebrate that! Leave them notes or a gift card; let them know they are seen and appreciated!

“Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for Me.” Matthew 25:40.

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