Autism Awareness Day and Month

Today is both Autism Awareness Day and the second day of Autism Awareness Month.  Last year, was our first Autism Awareness Day/Month since our diagnosis.  This year, we’ve gone from learning how to live with Autism to advocating and helping to spread information about Autism.

In April, I wrote about Obsessions and Asperger’s Syndrome.  I told of how NHL and I can sometimes "lock in" on a subject and be unable to switch our focus until we are done.  This can be a benefit (for example, if I need to work on something until it is done without giving up) or a problem (e.g. if I get stuck on doing X but I really don’t have time to do it).

In May, I decided to show The Upside of Asperger’s.  So often, Asperger’s Syndrome is shown as a problem to deal with or an obstacle to overcome.  There are, however, instances, where having Asperger’s Syndrome can be a blessing.  For example, I’m pretty immune to the "drama" of social interactions.  Where a neurotypical person might exit from a situation reading hidden meanings from every action the other people took, Aspie’s are more likely to be blind to these and just focus on the content of the situation.  In addition, people with Asperger’s Syndrome tend to be honest – to a fault, perhaps, but honest.  Telling a lie, for me, is a highly stressful endeavor.  I can feel the truth expanding inside me like a balloon and I know it’s only a matter of time before it comes bursting out.

Later that month, I wrote about Social Anxiety vs. Crowd Patience.  Here, I pointed out a quirk in how I react to social situations.  One on one social situations are stressful for me, but I tend to be fine with crowds.  In part, this is because the social expectations of navigating crowds are easy to deal with.  So long as I don’t knock anybody down, I can weave in and out just fine.

In July, I wrote about Asperger’s and the Emotional Cage.  One of the problems with Asperger’s Syndrome is that your emotions can be hard for others to determine.  Many times, I can feel very angry, sad, or confused.  I feel like I have all the words to describe my emotional state in my head, but something happens when I try to verbalize these words.  They become garbled and completely ineffective at describing my emotional state.  And that’s if I’m even able to get any words out at all.  I’m much better at describing my feelings in writing.

In November, I decided to use my greater skill with the written word over the spoken word and crafted An Open Letter About Asperger’s Syndrome to deal with some "myths and misconceptions" that some well-meaning relatives kept bringing up.  For example, that a person doesn’t "grow out of Asperger’s."  Yes, someone can learn to deal with the neurotypical world and delay their meltdowns until they are alone.  This can mean that – to others, at least – they appear "cured", but all it means is that the person has developed coping strategies to help them.

In December, I read an article where a mother blamed herself for giving her son Autism.  She listed reasons from vaccines to ultrasounds to drinking water with fluoride in it.  It spurred me to write How I Did NOT Give My Son Autism (And How I Did).  In it, I explained that none of the article’s author’s "causes" actually cause Autism.  While we don’t fully understand Autism, it appears to be primarily a genetic condition.  This is where I have felt some guilt since my genes obviously "gave" my son Autism.  It was a guilt that I struggled with even as I understood that there was no blame to be assigned.  It wasn’t like I was picking through my genes and deciding which ones my children would have.

It is interesting to note that, since my post was published, research has shown that the foundations of Autism begin in utero.  I should also note that, while I searched for a link to this article, I found two more articles – one from 2013 and one from 2011 – saying similar things.  This would eliminate many of the article’s author’s claims since many of her listed "Autism causes" would have come after the groundwork for her child’s Autism were laid down.

In March, I explored Letting Your Child Shine (or Fail).  Here, I pitted my desire to both protect NHL and help him learn from my experience versus letting him try things on his own and gather his own experience.  All too often, I find myself trying to save him from failing because I imagine it will be devastating to him.  Instead, I concluded, I need to learn to let him reach for his lofty goals.  I might just be surprised by how high he can soar.

Finally, just a week later, I addressed a common misconception about Asperger’s Syndrome in Asperger’s, Empathy, and Butterflies.  People with Asperger’s Syndrome are often thought of as having no empathy.  Instead, the opposite is usually true.  Aspies can often have no much empathy that they fear hurting anyone or anything.  Couple that with not knowing social rules as well as neurotypical folks and Aspies usually wind up retreating into the safety of solitude.

In this specific case, NHL really wanted to see the butterflies in a butterfly house.  Once he got inside, though, he screamed about wanting to leave.  Only once he was safely outside did he explain why he was so frightened.  He knew just how fragile butterflies are and couldn’t stand thinking that he might hurt one.  And since they were all over – on the floor, flying through the air, and on many surfaces nearby, any movement of his might hit a butterfly.  Hitting a person might mean pain for that person but not much else.  Hitting a butterfly might mean it would die.  The fear of hurting/killing one of those butterflies overwhelmed him too much to function.  In essence, he empathized with the butterflies too much to be able to enjoy them.

Hopefully, these posts have helped to inform people about Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism.  The more information that is spread, the less people will rely on myths and misconceptions and the quicker people with Autism can get the help they need to deal with the neurotypical world.