Thursday, April 14, 2011

Autism Awareness Month

It seems as if everywhere you look this month you see another magazine, another facebook page, another organization telling the world that April is Autism Awareness month. From the paint jobs on Nascar race cars, to the shoulders of ball players, to the fb pages of my friends Autism is the cause.

When I first became aware of autism the statistics being touted were that one in ten thousand children would be affected by autism.The research was minimal, and much of it still blamed the condition on bad mothering. When I first became aware of autism, most educators had never heard of it. Most teachers had never met a student with autism, because students with autism weren't in school. When I first became aware of autism, parents were still being told that their children would never speak, would never interact in any meaningful way with other people and would be better off institutionalized.When I first became aware of autism, my son was 18 months old.

I started questioning some of his behaviors with his pediatrician. Those questions would eventually lead us through children's hospitals, university hospitals, as well as clinical classrooms attempted to get a diagnosis. Now, a correct diagnosis when it comes to special needs children is so important. It is the only way to get your child the proper services from the school district. Like other families back then, we went through some wrong diagnosis before we got where we needed to be.

Our pediatrician sent us to a clinic at the local hospital. the very hospital where my came into this world. This hospital diagnosed my son as severely mentally retarded. Now, I may have just been the mom, but I knew this wasn't even close to the truth. So, off I went to the Children's hospital where my son was diagnosed as having a communication disorder, and for 3 pages of the 6 page diagnosis, a bad mom. Interestingly one of the criticisms of the 'experts' at this hospital was that we did not have a TV. It was written that I talked to my child too much. Honest, that's what they wrote. They also wrote that I was unrealistic in my expectations. I expected my son to be able to overcome whatever challenge was thrown at us, and to succeed. How dare I believe in my son!

This diagnosis of a 'communication disorder' was at least good enough to get us a placement in an early intervention program. My son, started school at 3 years old. He has always loved school and learning. We have always been blessed with good teachers who cared about  their students. The preschool program he was placed in had 10 students per classroom. I spent as much time in the classroom as he did. Parents were encouraged to be there and work with the teachers. As I looked around most days, I was the only parent there. I was stunned to learn, in overhearing a conversation between two teachers that in my sons classroom all of the other children were there because of problems created by the mothers drug use during pregnancy. What a sad statistic, having to do as much as where we were living at the time as anything else.

Eventually, I could feel Spirit telling me it was time to move. Raising a special needs child as a single mom was going to be easier in the Midwest.So, we moved. The first house we lived in was in a school district that chose to not deal with my sons challenges. By this time i was certain that my son was autistic, and I let school district administrators know this. A parent attempting to educate and autistic child was a new thing, and it took me a while to find the right school district. Eventually we did, and we moved again. My son registered in kindergarten, I took him to the local hospitals, and finally we had a diagnosis of autism.It took four years of doctors and educators to diagnose my son. Autism at that time was a relatively unknown disorder.

My son was blessed. We ended up living in an excellent school district that provided excellent programs and teachers for him. We are aware that other parents are still fighting long and hard for their children. Our journey through school was challenging, but in our school district he was able to thrive. My son was the first autistic student in the district. He would soon be followed by more autistic students as statistics changed. When i was taking my son from hospital to hospital-six in all-the statistics were one in ten thousand. Fast forward 20 years, it is April. Autism Awareness Month. Hard to believe that we have come this far in such a short time. Hard to believe that the statistics now say one in one hundred and ten children will be affected by an autism disorder.

When I first became aware of autism it was considered a rare disorder, now it is so common that it has a Month to raise people's awareness.Look around you, I bet you know a family that is being challenged by autism. In your schools, in your churches, in your neighborhoods. This month, be aware, when you see the blue lights lighting up a neighbors house, ask, they will be glad to talk to you about autism. When you are surfing the internet and you see the blue puzzle pieces in a logo, stop and take a minute to read the article.

Autism has always been around, all we ask is that you take a few minutes to become aware. Afterall, isn't that what awareness months are all about?

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