34% of children on the autism spectrum say that the worst thing about being at school is being picked on.
I'm participating in RJ Scott's Blog Hop for Autism Awareness this month--my day is April 25th, and hopefully this goes out then because I still get very fidgety when I push "schedule" and then BOOM the post is up at a magic time.
The autism fact this year is chilling and it makes my heart hurt--but it also reminded me of a moment I was really proud of my own children, and I'm going to share that because I think there is a lesson there.
I've mentioned--many times--that my oldest son has a processing disorder, and is communicatively handicapped. Some of the markers are much like autism-- has difficulty making transitions from one activity to another is one. Fixates on small details that are easy for the neurotypical to miss is another. And dealing with these quirks is a hard earned skill.
Fortunately, it's also one that makes for a better parent all around. I'm good at giving my kids warnings in increments before their environment changes--all of my kids. I'm good at giving my kids a moment to think and respond to the things I've just said--all of my kids. I'm good a assessing the environment as a whole to see what stimuli a child may be particularly invested in before I go around changing all the things.
All my kids.
These are good practices for all parents, all teachers, all caregivers--period.
But I didn't realize how much these habits of parenthood and kid-wrangling had seeped into my own children, and how much watching me dealing with their big brother would help my own children simply be more understanding human beings until about two years ago.
We were at the pool.
Now I go to the pool for aqua class, and for about an hour, my kids find someone else to play with and simply enjoy a bare spot of water. (Well, then, that's what they did. Now I make them go to aqua class, because they risk becoming inert during the summer months if we don't give them a little nudge.)
Anyway--my kids know how to swim, they're usually civil, and I keep a weather eye out for them as they play. They've yet to even catch the lifeguard's attention--it's all good.
And it was all good this day. I didn't know the little boy they were playing with, but they seemed to be having fun. At the end of the class though, one of the younger women came up to me. (I'm one of the younger women there--this should give you an idea of the aqua demographic.) I'd seen her around and I smiled, and she said, "Hey, thank you kids today for playing with my son. That was really nice."
I shrugged. "They're decent kids--I'm glad they had fun."
"Yeah, but my son has autism, and it's not always... easy for him to find friends. He had a really good time today. Tell them thank you."
And then she walked away.
And my kids came to me--because we usually play dumb games like simon-says or tag or red-light/green/light after he class--and I said, "Hey, did you have a good time?"
"Yeah. He was nice. I hope we play with him again."
"Good. He enjoyed that. He's sort of like your brother--just keep being nice. You guys are awesome."
They didn't seem to think it was any kind of deal--and for that, I was so proud. Because patience, empathy, checking to make sure the person you're talking to is comfortable--these shouldn't be a big deal, but most of us humans have to work hard at these skills. But it's worth it. Not picking on somebody, not remarking on their differences, treating every human as a complete and perfect being just as they come to us can make such a difference in their lives--and in our own.
Being "aware" of of what it means to be neuroatypical isn't just good for those with autism or Asperger's or a processing disorder. Being "aware" means to be a little more patient, a little more sensitive, a little more empathetic to all human beings, regardless of any label we're aware--or unaware--of.
Being aware is good for us all. It makes us better people. It makes us teach better understanding and model better human behavior.
Being aware of autism is being mindful creatures on a burgeoning planet.
And it has lovely, unforeseen consequences that we should work towards with all our hearts.