Celebrating Autism – Questions are welcome, judgement is not

April is known as “autism awareness month”. I happen to have an autistic son, and every year I like to share some facts about autism (or ASD as it’s known in the “community”) and invite my friends and family to ask me questions. I am happy to answer anything so long as it does not violate my son’s privacy; same as I would with my daughter, who is not autistic.

But first I’d like to tell you a little about my son. His name is Austin. He is 7 and has mousy brown hair, beautiful blue eyes, a huge beaming smile and is a very happy child. Austin is simply adored, every bit of him is precious, and that includes his autism. He likes the cartoon Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom, his tablet, cars [Peugeots are his current favourite], going to the park, cuddles with me and our pet cats.

I wonder if that surprises people! It’s quite a common misconception that people with autism don’t show any affection; this couldn’t be more false – actually we like to argue over who loves each other more and see who can give the most kisses!

So in the spirit of autism awareness month, I thought I’d talk about Austin’s diagnoses a little, and what this means…

Austin has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), speech delay and learning difficulties. He also has sensory processing disorder (SPD) and it’s highly likely he has ADHD too.

Anyone who’s met my Austin knows the boy never sits still. Even when he’s sitting he’s not still, in fact the reason I don’t post many pics of him is because they are usually a blur.

Austin engages in what’s known as stimming – which is short for self-stimulatory behaviour – he has a lot of sensory problems, including being under sensitive to vestibular and proprioceptive sensory input. What that means in simple terms is he has to jump, spin, swing, run, flap, rock, basically he loves to move!

If you were to put your arms out and close your eyes, you still know where your arms are. Austin doesn’t have that sensory input, so he likes to be cuddled tight and be covered in blankets.

Austin is also over sensitive to auditory stimulation – which means that although he’s the noisiest child I know, he can’t bear a lot of sounds that made by other people and will clamp his hands over his ears.

He has lots of stims such as loving lights and screens, what I’ve written is just a snapshot into how his body and his mind are different. Different should never mean less, and when he is stimming he is at his absolute happiest and I would never stop him, it’s what he needs to do

What angers me the most is when people talk about Austin in front of him… he understands what you’re saying even though you wouldn’t think so, it takes him longer to process what people say so with a little patience it is possible to communicate with him. This is true of a lot of autistic people, and knowing this can help them if you are lucky enough to know someone on the spectrum.

There is a saying in the autism community – “if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism” – this is absolutely true. The autistic spectrum is so huge and so different, it presents differently in so many people. Acceptance is about respecting autistic people for who they are, and not expecting them to change. That includes not making assumptions of what autistic people can and can not do. I myself am guilty of this and there was a time when I would do everything for my son, I would even dress him and brush his teeth, before realising the best thing I could do for him was to help him become independent. I had to teach him these things, but he did learn and; although he requires constant supervision; pushing him to do things on his own is a great positive step on his journey.

So now you know a little about my boy, although this is really just a very small snapshot of his life. What I’d like to gain from writing this post is more acceptance. Awareness is available everywhere, there are hundreds of websites dedicated to ASD. That’s not my aim. I want people to see past my son’s diagnosis; it’s a part of him, it’s not who he is though.

He will never “fit in” to society and I’d never want him to – it’s not for him to change himself, people need to accept him for who he is. Having autism is the same as having blue eyes, it’s a part of him, his essence.

I hope people enjoy reading my post, as always questions are welcome, judgement is not