Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Autism Awareness

It's Autism awareness month. According to the Autism Society of Minnesota:

Autism is estimated to occur in as many as 1 in 166 individuals (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). Autism is four times more prevalent in boys than in girls and knows no racial, ethnic, or social boundaries. Family income, life-style, and educational levels do not affect the chance of a child having autism. Autism is currently thought of as a “spectrum disorder.” This means that the severity of symptoms differs in people with ASD.
Colin is at the "high end" of the spectrum. People often ask me what this means, and I trip over my tongue trying to explain something I only sort of understand myself. Colin's senses are heightened. Things are too loud. He hums to himself. (Sometimes my mother does this as well.) He doesn't mind being touched, but it sort of has to be on his terms -- but, then again, what 10-year-old boy isn't this way. He has always done things at his own pace, on his own time . . . talking, walking, potty training.

Communication is probably the area he struggles with the most. He has a difficult time getting what's in his head out his mouth. This is the issue that is hardest for me. I was a linguistics student. I love words. I am fascinated by language. Speaking what's on our minds is something many of us take for granted.

I certainly did.

Even though he cannot always tell me what's bothering him, or what happened to him during the day, or how he feels, my son is gifted in ways I never dreamed for him. At 10 he plays jazz piano better than I ever will. Because feelings are a bit of a mystery to him, he pays particular attention to people. He sees things I do not notice. "Mom, what is that person feeling?" he will ask of someone I had not even seen -- an impatient mom at the mall perhaps, a crying baby, a worried dad.

He is purposefully attuned to the world . . . until the world is too loud or too tiring and then he retreats. You might say "zones out." Or, if we are somewhere safe -- like at home -- he will melt down in a way you might find inappropriate for a big kid his age. These moments are not fun.

He is handsome and funny. He is musical. He is joyful.

He is my child born the way God needs him to be.

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