Tomorrow, April 2nd, is World Autism Awareness Day.
I’ve got a story to share, and I’ve held it in for long enough.
Almost 3 years ago a burning mission came bubbling out of my inner being – it was just as powerful as birthing my boys in many ways.
I was involved in an epic journey that took place over 31 days. It was entirely online, but it couldn’t have felt more real than if I had been experiencing it in the flesh. As a result of that virtual journey I arrived at a profound awareness of my mission.
But, let me give you my backstory first.
My Family’s Autism Story
Six years ago, my first-born was about to start kindergarten in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
In the months leading up to September, I’d noticed some strange behaviours in my boy. He didn’t seem to know ‘how’ to play with his toys or other children at the playground. And even though he had been in full-time daycare for two years with lots of other kids, he was always happiest doing his own thing. Loud sounds really bothered him (to the point he would refuse to enter public washrooms for fear of the hand-dryer) and he had been through speech and language therapy because at 14 months he still hadn’t uttered a single word. (The speech therapy helped tremendously and you would never know today that he ever didn’t talk!)
But, within a few weeks of the start of school, my son’s teacher called me to discuss her concerns in that very loving way and with the experience only a veteran teacher possesses.
She confirmed what I had already suspected – that my loving, sweet, brilliant, intelligent boy most likely had Autism/Aspergers.
Within a few months, we received the diagnosis of High-Functioning Autism from the caring doctors and psychologists at the local hospital.
Personal Experience Influences Life’s Mission
And here’s where my mission starts to build up within me.
You see, we were reluctant to share about his diagnosis with anyone who didn’t absolutely need to know.
Why? Because we didn’t want it to limit him. We didn’t want to colour how others perceive him, or most importantly, how he perceives himself.
Most* High-Functioning Autistics and Aspergers (some claim they are the same, the only difference in my boy’s case is his speech delay ruled out Aspergers – which technically is no longer an official diagnosis) are quite brilliant, and my boy is no exception. Academically he is very strong (although he struggles to see the point to doing his homework!). Gym class is not his favourite as he can be awkward at times. And cooperating with other children his age can be difficult.
*You’ll soon discover that sweeping generalizations in the Autism community are frowned upon. There’s a saying that “once you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met ONE person with Autism.” Every person living with Autism displays their challenges in unique ways. But there are certainly a LOT of ways they are similar.
As I’m seeing where my boy struggles in school and in life (he doesn’t like change, especially unexpected change – but he’s getting better at managing when things don’t go as expected) I’m thinking about his future and where his path might take him.
Ultimately, he’s really great at some things, and not so great at others.
Aren’t we all like that?!
Since I am a computer programmer by training, I know how a logical mind can be put to good use.
I see all the possibilities for my boy’s future.
And yet, my fear is that his challenges may prevent him from being able to find gainful employment.
He wouldn’t have trouble finding a job because he’s incapable of doing the work, but because the hiring manager may not be able to see that he’s capable if he gives off a wrong first-impression. Or perhaps he will find a good job, but the environment will be too challenging for him to succeed.
My Mission: Change the Professional Landscape for People With Autism
By 2020, my mission is to change the workplace landscape for young adults with Autism – so that they are seen for their strengths, being adequately compensated for their skills, all within a supportive, adaptive environment where they can thrive.
It seems I may be on the right track as the UN declared the theme for this year’s Awareness Day is “Employment: The Autism Advantage.”
But wait a minute – what does that have to do with “Online Empowerment” and website development? For the past three years I’ve been asking myself the same dang question.
The answer came to me last week. And when I’m ready to share that answer, you’ll be the first to know about it!
For now, please join me in supporting World Autism Awareness Day by wearing BLUE, lighting up blue if you can, and asking questions. The more we know, the closer we get to true acceptance.
I’m going to leave you with this thought: 1 in 88 children (1 in 54 boys) are diagnosed with some level of Autism, and their numbers are only growing.
Now you know 1 – my son, if you didn’t before.
I’m not asking for money (but if you feel called to, you can donate to AutismSpeaks.ca in Canada, or AutismSpeaks.org, or search for your local Autism community and find out how you can help), all I’m asking for is more awareness – ask questions if you don’t understand – and acceptance – my boy is perfectly quirky and there is absolutely nothing “wrong” with him.
He just experiences the world differently and is doing his best to navigate it by ‘neurotypical’ standards.
Will you help me ‘change the landscape’ for all of our future selves? I hope so.
I invite you to share your Autism awareness story in the comments or on social media and tag me (@CorinnaRake).