Thursday, April 02, 2009

Autism Awareness Meets Quilly's Three Word Challenge

It's Thursday, which means that it's the arrival of Quilly's dreaded Three Word Challenge. She gives us three obscure, look-em-up-in-the-dictionary words and asks us to use them. Agh. Today's words (and their meanings) were:

propinquity - Kinship or nearness
susurrus - whispering sound
nescience - ignorance

Unfortunately, it is usually only when we are brought into propinquity with a child or children with autism that interest and concern begin to whisper in our ears, to be a susurrus, awakening our consciousness and breaking through our nescience, our ignorance and lack of concern. Today is Autism Awareness Day. Two of my favorite bloggers who put a human and tender face - who put heart and tender honesty - onto this subject are Linda at These Are the Days and Michelle at Full Souls Ahead. I hope you'll take the time to visit them and learn a bit about what it's like to have a child or children with autism and what it's like to BE a child with autism. Or an adult....

Michelle today wrote about a woman she knew in nursing school who was "different" and how she wished she had known then what she knows now. (She's much more eloquent. Please read her own words). It made me think about people who have passed through my own life. When I lived and worked out in the world I was always a magnet for odd people. They seemed to find me and glue themselves to me, probably because I was kind. I would listen and talk. I would make an effort to include them. Truth be known, though, much to my shame I wasn't always very sincere. I often resented it. In those days nobody knew what autism was. I didn't, anyway. Maybe some of these people were autistic. Probably they were. In retrospect, instead of resenting them, I should have been impressed that they were out in the world working and functioning. There was a woman at my church who nobody could stand. I was pretty much the only person who talked to her and she hung around me a lot. She was brilliant but she had trouble communicating. I used to try and help her find better ways to talk to people. Thinking back, I suspect she was autistic. Should I have had to know that to feel more compassionate about her? I've always thought that when we reject people because they seem different, we re-enforce their differentness. It has always bothered me but I won't claim that I'm above it. Part of me resented this woman's intrusion into my life. My own insecurities screamed to attention when all the odd people in the world glued themselves to me. Would people think I was one of them? (Was I? Was that why they liked me so much?)

In Arizona, I met my friend Sue and her son Nicholas. Nicholas has Asperger's Syndrome. He was 7 when I moved out there. Sweet and smart and articulate. And ever so slightly odd. The kind of differentness that makes the rest of us when we are at our worst move aside. There isn't necessarily any kind of cruel shunning (though there well may be that as well), but there is still an instinct in all of us to move away. Because we don't know any better. Because we are afraid as children and as adults of being judged. Nicholas is probably 12 or 13 now. I haven't been in touch with his mother as much as I used to be. I know they decided to start home schooling him as he moved into puberty because they thought the social problems at school might be too devastating for him. Nicholas has a wonderful imagination and a big heart and a sweet sense of humor. People who don't get to know him don't know what they are missing.

I don't know what my point is. I wish we lived in a world where we were able to be kinder to one another. Whether the differentness is autism or obesity or blindness or some other disability, I wish we were actively taught to reach past or initial impusle at rejection. We are too often ruled by the susurrus - the whispering voices of wanting to fit in, of not wanting to be bothered, of not wanting to be different by association.

I hope that somehow Autism Awareness will not just knock down walls but will also build bridges, not just teach us what autism is and how autistic children (and adults) are different, but also - maybe more importantly - teach us how those who live with autism are the same and how we can reach across what seems like a chasm but is often only a crack in the sidewalk.

I hope the day will come when people like my friend Nicholas and countless others will be less isolated by their condition because the rest of us will know that they are not so different after all.


quilly said...

Raven, I spent a year teaching autistic preschoolers. It was a year of much joy and pain and learning.

One of our basic human needs is love and acceptance. Even if one is well fed and clothed and all other needs are met, if one not have a place in which he or she belongs and feels secure, he or she will not thrive and -- children especially -- might even die.

Jeni said...

Thanks, Raven, for posting this. All too often, I think if people realize my grandchildren are autistic, they fear them. Fear perhaps that the autism thing is contagious and will rub off on them or their children. It isn't that so it won't! There's nothing like that to worry about when being around people with autism or autistic individuals.

As you know, I blog frequently about my two younger grandkids -Maya and Kurt -both of whom are autistic. A lot of my friends -around home as well as online -tell me things about how they think I am such a loving Grandma, so patient and kind -and my kids get a big kick out of that because they know I struggle daily to bring that patience to the front when dealing with Kurt and Maya! It was never one of my good qualities at all when my kids were growing up but now, with my grandchildren, I have had to learn that, practice it as a skill set, not just daily but hourly, sometimes even by the minute! My grandkids are beautiful, absolutely fascinating, intelligent and also, devilish little imps at times too -just like any other 5 or 3 year old can be. But they have, each one, their own separate set of issues, ways we must speak to them, learn how to avoid the dreaded meltdowns (at home and in public) and they each have different methods by which they learn too. But then, don't all kids have that too? The key -to me -is acceptance and love -lots and lots of both, plus plenty of therapy in the areas where the child appears to be the weakest and it's absolutely amazing how they can turn things around, learning by leaps and bounds some days and other days, seeming to drag, on and on and you wonder will he or she ever "get" this, comprehend, develop better skills, etc. It can be frustrating -yes, for sure. But that too is no different than when deal with NT children either! They are that way too just as we all were that way -frustrating -to our parents on numerous occasions too. Just a whole new way of learning how to adjust our lives that helps them to adjust and learn to deal with us, with the outside world as well!
Sorry for the "soapbox" thing there, but when it comes to Autism, I just can't help myself!

Melli said...

My youngest son is has Aspergers - however, we never let it be officially "diagnosed". His psychologist agreed that as long as he did well in school there was no need to bring the title down upon him. But yes... he's always been a little different. When he was VERY young, we were really concerned that he was autistic -- he had sO many of the classic associations. AND as he grew older his IQ was CRAZY high... and that goes along with it too! But by the time we did get it looked into, they had come up with Aspergers for the very mild, nearly normal "Autistics". A kinder gentler autism! Funny, it was at this time that God chose to put me working in the only elementary school in the county that had a special pre-K class. And funny that 6 of the kids who attended it were autistic. I subbed in that class more than any other class over the next 3 years. It was a situation that worked well in both directions. I "got" those kids - so I was good for them. And THEY reminded ME how lucky I was that Derek was Aspergers, instead of Autistic. Most of them were very sweet and gentle. But 2 of them were very VIOLENT - at times. Being the parent is definitely a challenge at times! MORE of a challenge than everyday parenting!

Danny Boy said...

Hi Raven,

I think you hit a hard place for most people. It's hard to fight that feeling you get when your around someone who is different. For me people with autism have never made me feel uncomfortable. I have trouble being around people who have certain types of mental health issues. My mother has schezophrenia and I even get uncomfortable at times around her. I think people need to understand that they can't shut out these people. They are part of the human race and need to be loved.

Danny boy

Anonymous said...

What an excellent post today. I have never been around someone that has autism but have seen plenty on the TV about it. In fact this morning CNN had an item that one family has spent 3 million dollars for their son. They showed also how there are dogs that are specially trained in autism but the expense is outrageous. I so agree with you in that I don't see why people have to treat others differently because they have autism or whatever disability. It is sad that it is human nature to be like that. If we could only have a kinder gentler nation wouldn't it be great. Excellent post and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it :)

Dr.John said...

What a wonderful way to use Quilly's three words to do a little teaching about autism.
We know a great deal about it. My daughter interned in a clinic for severly autistic children. During her breaks from school she taught us a lot about autism.
A family at our Church has a child with Aspergers . The mother homeschools him because kids in the public school were mean. At the church, however, he is loved, and fits in. He even did a monologue during Lent. He didn't do a very good job but the congregation clapped like it was the greatest thing ever.
I wish every such child had a support group.

juliana said...

you put the words into great use.
i don't have any experience with autistic people but i think it's important to raise awareness in others.
thank you for being the voice of those people on this occasion.

bettygram said...

I am so very glad that you did this post. It is important to have an understanding of the need to be accepted. We also got a glimps into the difficulties that the parents faced.

Linda Murphy said...

Raven-thank you for highlighting this topic on your blog. Having a support system is invaluable-for all of us. And thank you for connecting all of us through this post-the comments are very enlightening and encouraging.

ccorkran said...

Raven, I admire your talents and vast knowledge about so many things. God created each of us uniquely different. I don't know why so many people try so hard to conform into a stereotypical role. I value individuality and welcome differences. Keep advocating for those of us who do not fit the norm!!! Candace

Live/Love/Life said...

I too am a person that seems to have certain types of people flock to them. I like to think it is because I try not to pass judgement. I treat people the way I would like to be treated. I wish at times the world wasn't so cruel and cold to people with mental illness but it is a reality.
Since my Brother was murdered by a person with mental illness I have become more aware of my surroundings and the people I allow into my life.

But as far as Autism goes I have met several families effected and I must say most of the children are beautiful inside and out and have such a sense of love.

Thank you for bringing attention to the subject. I will be calling my good friend in the AM to see how he is doing as a single father with a child with special needs.

Honey said...


Hi! I don't know if you already noticed it, I have been visiting your blog almost everyday. I hope you don't mind coz I really find joy reading your entries. Your posts contain so many interesting things and I could really get something brilliant lessons from them.

This one is really nice!!! Thanks...

That is the chicken said...

I too have worked intensively with an autistic child and found it a true journey of discovery...and delight.
I wish more people could understand what Michelle was saying in her post...that people on the autistic spectrum have much to communicate and a truly unique and wonderful way of seeing the world.

Finding Pam said...

I really admire the parents of autistic children. Their determination to break through the silence if amazing. My personal belief is that love over comes everything.

My youngest son has Tourettes Syndrome and I can not tell you the hell his life was because of other mean kids as well as teachers. This was one of the most difficult times in our lives.

Today he is a strong and creative young man and yes he still has ticks both motor and vocal. I would like to see more education about autisim, tourettes and other syndromes that the public does not understand.

I had a childhood illness and was made to feel so inadequate because of it. Those memories took me a lifetime to overcome. I guess that is why I am so understanding and tolerant of others. We all are human beings and deserve to be treated better than.

Raven, thank you for advocating for those with no voice.

gabrielle said...

Who ever came up with the bell curve anyway? And where do you see yourself on it?

I sought help for my daughter when I noticed that she was unhappy. She would come home from school in tears. Nobody wanted to be her friend. Girls were mean to her. She was not able to keep up with her school work because she spent most of her time “daydreaming”. At home and with our friends, she is celebrated for her ebullient and generous spirit, great sense of humor and unique way of perceiving the world. But she wasn’t fitting into the mainstream.

We did extensive testing at a well regarded clinic for developmental disabilities and learning differences. She was diagnosed with ADHD, learning disabilities and anxiety disorder.
My reflexive response to distance myself, resist the recommendations for medication was baffling. I was no stranger to “mental illness” having experienced deep depressions myself. Why the denial? I remembered the loneliness of growing up with the diagnosis of childhood depression. And I feared these labels would only bring stigma and separation. And I wanted to spare her.

We’ve moved past that time and Emma is doing well. She is still blessedly different.

Temple Grandin is an inspiring person for anyone who is impacted by autism. She has written many books about her own experience, which she has translated into teaching people in the food industry about how to work with animals.

Thank you, Raven for a wonderfully thought provoking post.

Nessa said...

Very enlightening. Thank-you.

Carletta said...

What a service my friend!
My best friend in Virginia has raised an Autistic daughter. I have seen my friend go through some difficult times. He daughter is almost 40 years old now with a much younger mindset. She does puzzles, likes to listen to music and likes to be read children's books. And yet she does 'work' in a laundry service.
It's hard to see the world looking past disabilities and accepting them when we can't even get past something as simple as skin color.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post. I taught special education mostly with children who were in regular classes and came to me for additional instruction or support. The most challenging thing was trying to deal with the awful labels that were put on my students by their peers and in a few cases, by other teachers...