With Word Autism Awareness Day coming up on April 2, I thought I’d share my personal story.
Most of us are aware of autism, but like many people, I didn’t know a lot about the disorder before my daughter was diagnosed at the age of 4. At first I didn’t believe the diagnosis. My child was nothing like the autistic characters I’d seen on TV and in films like Rain Man. I thought kids with autism fit a particular profile: fixated with routine, bothered by loud noises, resistant to physical contact, and unable to connect emotionally with people.
But I’ve since learned that autism affects people in many different ways and to different degrees, which is why it’s referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). My daughter adapts well to changes in her routine and loud noises don’t faze her. She’s highly social, loves parties and enjoys hugs. She’s happy being with people and talking to them, but since she has trouble grasping the rules of social interaction and controlling her emotions, it’s difficult for her to form friendships.
Now 11 years old, she still has tantrums when things don’t go her way. She can be rude and demanding, and sometimes aggressive. Her behaviour can lead to puzzled looks, awkwardness and judgment from those who don’t know or understand her diagnosis. As she gets older, people will be less forgiving.
It’s important to realize that people with ASD do have feelings, and they form strong emotional attachments. They may not be able to express their emotions, but those feelings are just as strong as anyone else’s. Though they struggle with social interaction, they have the same desire for relationships. Imagine the frustration and loneliness when you want to connect with people but can’t figure out all the subtleties the rest of us find intuitive.
Since children with ASD learn differently, keeping up in a regular school can be difficult. My daughter attends a private school for kids with learning disabilities. It took her longer to learn to read and write, but she’s a gifted writer and artist with a vivid imagination. I hope that when she’s old enough to enter the workforce, she’ll be given a chance. Employers are beginning to realize that people with ASD can be highly focused and diligent workers. Even with the challenges they face, they can contribute to society and have full lives. What more could a parent want for their child?