Photo: C1 participates (sort of away from the crowd) in a watermelon eating contest during a neighborhood party. He didn't really "race" but at least he joined the activity. : )
It's June 2 now and just two months past Autism Awareness month. April 2010 was the first time in a few years that I haven't helped my group in Central Michigan raise awareness about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the community. Unfortunately I didn't blog too much either. I had a good reason. My family and I left Michigan on March 22 and arrived to our new home in Washington on May 29.
Moving didn't mean I was totally excused from autism awareness. I've been actively involved in what I'm referring to as "square 1 awareness." What I mean by that is not so much explaining autism in general, but rather explaining how autism affects my oldest son. My ongoing mission has been to educate our neighbors and my son's playmates and teachers as well as our neighbors. Most people around here seem to know about autism in general, so mostly I've had to explain how autism and my son in general (for example, his quirky habits, what causes him to melt down, and what does and doesn't motivate him.)
My first step was to talk to the educators at the local elementary school since my son was to start school about a week after we moved. Talking to adults about autism and my son is fairly easy for me and I felt that what I had to say about him in terms of ASD was well received. That took a few hours, but I enjoyed talking to them and my efforts seemed to have paid off as things are going as well as we can expect them to go.
I found it to be harder to explain to the neighbor kids. Usually I don't say anything to children about C1 until something comes up. So on a sunny, warm day when my son kept insisting on everyone (two other boys and my younger son) playing inside instead of outside, I had a bit of explaining to do. My younger boy, C2, and I both explained that C1 has autism. That didn't change their minds about playing outside (I didn't expect it to), but they seem to still accept him to a certain extent. Eventually, my son did join them outside, but it took awhile.
The kids I talked to on that day live on our street. There are also a few who live on the street behind us. My husband took up the job of "square one awareness" when a middle schooler mentioned that my son "was a little bit different." After my husband told him that C1 had autism, the boy said that "no one around here would give him a hard time." That made us feel pretty good.
So yes, now the majority of our neighbors know. A lot of times we volunteered the information to the adults just in case they saw him running down the street screaming on a bad day. "Meltdowns aren't too pretty," is a line I use often when telling neighbors about how autism affects my son.
When we told one neighbor at a recent neighborhood party, he addressed our tendency to volunteer information by asking us if we were concerned about prejudice. We said no, that it didn't happen too often. We didn't say it, but what we really fear is prejudice developing because we didn't do our job. Fear and prejudice often develops as a result of a lack of knowledge and/or communication. So far, we think we've done our job of "square one awareness" pretty well and feel accepted into our new community.
However, our awareness work is far from over. The next step is educating an array of doctors, therapists and others (such as summer camp counselors) who will work with him in the future. As I have previously explained, it is not easy to get an intake (first) appointment with a doctor around here (much to my dismay) and we have to wait until July an appointment with his new pediatrician. However, our first appointment is with a therapist the third week in June.
I spoke to the therapist, a psychologist, yesterday and disclosed some details about my son so that he will understand better to work with him. It seemed to go pretty well, but we'll know a little bit more about how it will work out after the first appointment. So, yep, this new phase of square one awareness has already begun. It will go full strength ahead through the summer. We have a lot of appointments and even a summer day camp in July. Wish us luck as we continue our mission of awareness! : )