Autism awareness month, which began on Tuesday, means everything and nothing to someone who is living with it first-hand.
It means everything in that it pervades every moment of every day. Autism is something of which I am already aware: it is an experience from which I do not get a break, and therefore its call to recognition by those in positions more visible than me, means everything. It is the silent question behind the taunting kids at school (“is it because Noah’s different?”), and the quiet realization behind every self-stimulating behavior of Noah’s. It is the “oh, he must be overstimulated,” or “there are too many people here,” or “he does not like the feel of my hugs” thoughts. It is everything in every moment of every day with my son.
Which means it is also nothing. It is a part of Noah, and not the whole. It is the “this is what he has, not who he is,” and the “I don’t think I’d want him any other way” ideations that rattle through my heart each day I spend with him. It is the refusal to make excuses for him, and the toeing of a hard line, and the working to make things the best they can possibly be because an ICD-9 code and the DSM and the XYZPDQ’s don’t have a clue what he’s like in real life. It means nothing because I feel the Lord has called Noah to something great because of what he’s been dealt, and in spite of it. It is nothing he cannot handle, and apparently nothing I cannot handle, despite what my weary eyes and aching hip joints told me this morning.
It means something, though, for those who are struggling with a new diagnosis, or seeking a diagnosis, or to find the money to pay for services. It means something for those struggling to throw off the stigma of autism, and to legitimize what their children have in the face of critics who persist in calling it simply bad behavior, or the result of lax parenting. It is for the “something” people that we ought to pray; those struggling to find their way, and enough strength, and the Lord’s hand. For them, someday, autism awareness month will mean nothing, too.