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The Missing Piece of Autism Awareness

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When people hear that my child has autism, it’s hard to tell who they are picturing in their minds.

For most, it’s a duplicate copy of the person they have in their own lives who has autism. It could be a neighbor who was diagnosed in adulthood and sometimes feels uneasy at parties. It could be a cousin who asks many questions and has hobbies considered unique. It could be a TV character who solves crimes and goes to med school at 10 years old. It’s a thousand possibilities.

Most times, though, I know they aren’t picturing my son.

Lucas is 11 years old and non-verbal. His lack of speech is something that is made up for, to the best of his ability, by hand signals and communication devices. Still, he struggles with many life skills and motor functions that other children his age might have picked up already. A good amount of his missed milestones will remain missed and the help he needs will likely persist for much of his life.

Even with all of that information, you’re still not picturing him.

Lucas makes eye contact. He makes so much eye contact that he will repeatedly tap you on the shoulder and stretch his face to meet yours. He enjoys clapping, “Sesame Street,” and hugging. He has no aversions to loud noises to the point where I have seen him sleep through a fireworks display. No one loves with the same enthusiasm he does and it’s not abnormal for him to come by, out of the blue, with a kiss for me. Alongside his sister, he lights up my life, and all the help I offer him pales in comparison to the joy he fills in my heart each and every day.

Still, that’s just a small part of what makes him the person he is. There aren’t enough words to describe the person he is and why he is such a huge part of our lives.

Being aware of autism is a great step for those who might not know about it. This yearly campaign has done a lot of good. It leads to less uncomfortable moments in public and even fewer insulting stares from passing strangers. He’s not hidden away or kept home for family functions. Lucas is a part of our lives and the push for autism awareness has been a big help in making that a reality. It has given me comfort knowing that some ways that his behavior plays out won’t be as misunderstood by others as they once might have been.

However, autism is a long spectrum with so many lives affected in countless different ways. Knowing my son is nothing like knowing another person with autism. He’s his own person. He’s unique.

Saying “Autism Awareness” is like saying “Child Awareness.” Sure, you might know the kid next door, but you don’t know the kid down the block because of it. They’re different people. The same can be said for Lucas. Even another non-verbal child, close to his place on the spectrum, who shares many of his personality traits won’t mimic him to the point that they are identical. He can’t be found in a book. None of us can. We’re all unique.

People with autism are just that – people. Being aware of what autism is may help to bridge the gap of understanding, but it doesn’t sum up everything in a neat little package. There are still things like Autism Acceptance and Autism Appreciation to focus on after you become aware. There’s also just getting to know someone as an individual and recognizing what makes them special.

I want the world to know my boy. I want them to see that autism means many things. For my son, it makes up some of the best parts of his personality.

My son isn’t a category or a label. He’s not a puzzle piece or a movie role. He’s amazing. If you really want to know who he is, you just have to know him. In my eyes, my son is less about Autism Awareness and more about Awesome Awareness. That sums up who he is best.

Originally published: March 31, 2022
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