Autism Awareness vs Acceptance: Does there have to be a difference?

Well, it’s that time of the year again……………Autism Awareness month. Where puzzle pieces and ‘light it up blue’ are in full effect. Normally I am posting crap all over Facebook, shoving this so-called “awareness” into people’s faces. However, I have been seeing a little too much negativity towards awareness and a push towards acceptance “instead.” Aren’t they, in a way, the same?

Everyone who knows autism, and even the ones who have no clue, have probably heard of an organization called Autism Speaks. If you haven’t, (because you obviously live under a rock), the group calls themselves “an autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism.” And to my understanding, they are the ones who started the “blue” campaign to push awareness, and created the puzzle pieces to signify autism.  Sounds like a good organization, right?

Well, not according to some.

Because I am THAT mom who reads anything and everything there is to know about autism, I have lately been focusing on what the actual community thinks and feels about autism. Not the parents, but the autistics themselves.

I first came across some information on whether the community, as a whole, wants to be called “autistics” or “those with autism”. There’s actually quite a debate about this, but overall, I see a push in the “autistics” category. Most would rather be labeled autistic than have the “condition” of autism. They believe that with the word ‘autistic’, people will see them for who they are, and will see that autism is not just a “part” of them………….a part that should be fixed……a ‘disease’ they have that needs to be cured.

First of all, I’m going to listen to an autistic about autism before I’m going to listen to anyone else. So this got me reading more. I soon realized that some on the spectrum are not big fans of Autism Speaks. And given the explanation above, I can see why they don’t really care for the organization. If Autism Speaks focuses on a ‘cure’, they are not focusing on the person. ‘Treating’ insinuates something is wrong and must be changed. Most autistics don’t want to be changed.

A particular blog post that I came across when doing my research discussed the fact that the organization only gives a very small amount to the actual autism community/families, something like 4%. It also emphasized the fact that there are no actual autistics that are employed in the Autism Speaks organization, only parents of. The post criticized the organization for pushing awareness instead of acceptance.

So, now for my two cents…………I think awareness and acceptance go hand in hand. There doesn’t have to be a great divide between them. Personally, I don’t like a lot of the things that Autism Speaks stands for either, but there are also a lot of good things. And, I bet if it wasn’t for AS, there would be a lot less information out there on autism in general. Also, because the group is quite large, even that 4% will go to a lot of families.

Do I want someone to find a “cure” for autism? Absolutely!!! Call me a horrible person, I really don’t care. In my opinion, I would be a bad mom if I enjoyed watching Keegan suffer, and I’m here to tell you that I don’t! I would be a bad mom if I didn’t care that my child may go his whole life without ever saying a complete sentence, but I do care. I would be a bad mom if I didn’t care one way or the other that Keegan learn daily living skills so that he can actually take care of himself when I die, but I do care and need him to. And these are all things that impact Keegan’s life in a negative way due to autism and autism only.

Do I want to change his precious and innocent soul? Hell no. Do I want to change his silly quirkiness? Never! Do I want to wipe that ridiculously amazing smile off of his face? Absolutely not. But all of this, along with everything else that makes Keegan perfect, is not the autism part.

I don’t know what my son thinks about having autism, because he can’t tell me. I do know he cries when he can’t think of the right word. I do know he has to stim almost non-stop all day in order to help his body feel normal. And, I also know that he struggles a lot with fine motor skills that most kids his age could easily do 3 years ago. And I would like to think that Keegan would want that “cure”, too.

I want Keegan to embrace his autism someday, but because of the barriers that autism creates, he may not ever develop a capacity to do so. Awareness isn’t a negative thing. It’s good to be ‘aware’ of everything about autism. Acceptance is important, yes, but we don’t stop helping our children just because we have accepted the autism.

So go ahead and wear that blue tomorrow for Autism Awareness Day,  and sport that puzzle piece paraphernalia…….I know I am. This doesn’t mean that I accept Autism Speaks, it means that I want the world to know that I love my child and every little thing about him. It says that I’m proud that he works so hard despite his struggles, and I’m not afraid to show it. And most importantly , I wear my blue and sport those puzzles because it says, “ask me anything you want about autism and I can tell you what you need to know about both autism awareness AND acceptance.”

 

 

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Darwinism or Autism? The Quest for Survival

You know when you have a newborn baby and the only thing that gets you through the sleepless nights is knowing that one day very soon this torture will be nothing but a fleeting memory?

What if someone told you that the torturous sleep deprivation was never going to end. That this is how it was going to be for the rest of your life. Instead of a memory, it will be your daily reality. What if they also told you that you will sometimes be up in the middle of the night catering to him for 3 or 4 hours straight, unable to go back to sleep for fear of his safety.

What if that person also told you that your baby was going to grow up physically, but that was it. He was not going to grow cognitively or developmentally. You will have to take care of every little detail for that child like he is four weeks old, even when he is four years old, or even 40 years old.  And that even when your baby turns 18 and all the other 18 year olds are leaving for college, your baby will never leave the house, unless he is going to a residential facility or a personal care home.

If you had an option, would you still have that baby?

The description is a little dramatic, I know. But, it is my reality.

I recently read an article about a Princeton professor who suggested that severely disabled infants be killed in order to cut health care costs, and also for “moral reasons”. He feels that the “right to life” is based on that persons “capacity for intelligence and to hold life preferences.” He goes on to say that he doesn’t want his “health insurance premiums to be higher so that infants who experience zero quality of life can have expensive treatments.”

I think the initial thought process towards this professor, for most people who have a beating heart, is ‘blasphemy’. It was my first thought, anyway. I have a special needs child who falls into this category of “low capacity for intelligence” and “zero quality of life”. The thought of killing him as an infant is not even a thought that has ever crossed my mind.

A few days after I read this article I started contemplating the actual underlying meaning, and his actual thought process. It hit me during a play date. The depression usually hits hard during play dates because that’s when I REALLY see the difference between my son and every other child. Even those that are far younger than him. And, even those who are also autistic. My friends 1-year-old daughter shook her head ‘no’ in response to a question that her mother asked her. Wow! My 4, almost 5-year-old, has never shook his head no.

Another ‘slap in the face–your son is way too low functioning’ moment came this morning. My husband and I went on a tour of an autism school that sounded perfect for our son. After talking a little bit about our son and his abilities (or lack thereof), the director pretty much told us in so many words that our son was probably not appropriate for the school, based on his limited functioning and abilities. OK, so if he can’t even go to an autism school, what are his other options? If you won’t even take our $30,000, who will?

So this got me thinking about Charles Darwin, and his idea of “survival of the fittest”. It also got me thinking about this professor who feels we should just eliminate these ‘problem’ children from the beginning. All of a sudden, I actually understood where he was coming from.

As I couldn’t imagine my  life without my precious baby, I also can’t imagine how his life is going to be when he is at the age where he is required to take care of himself. My husband and I have sleepless nights (besides the fact that our son keeps us awake) worrying about his future. I know it’s not good to live in the future, but us special needs parents don’t have a choice. Not only are our days filled with worrying about the present, and sometimes just getting through the day is difficult enough, but we have to constantly think about what parameters have to be put into place to help him navigate his world in the future, or heaven forbid, live without us. And because our son has had little to no improvement, along with significant regression, over the past 2 years, we definitely have to consider this.

I think when people initially hear what this professor says, we think he is being selfish and shallow, only focusing on the strong and able. If I may play devils advocate, is it selfish to keep a baby based on our religious values or desires to have a baby, regardless of how difficult that child’s life will be? To not only torture the child through these impossible obstacles, but also torture the parents watching it? My son cries everyday, sometimes numerous times a day, and because of his limited communication, I usually cannot ease his pain. This is very difficult when it is someone you love more than anyone else in the world. I think that’s sort of what this professor is saying. The burden on the parents, children, hospitals and financial/insurance companies combined doesn’t have to be an issue if “it” (as he calls the child in question) is just eliminated from the beginning. However, very few people could fathom killing their precious gift from God, including myself.

The reason I blog about the depressing things in my autism life is not for others to feel sorry for me (but if you want to, you are more than welcome), but more for empathy. Everyone wants others to put themselves in their shoes at times so they understand their struggle, and where they are coming from. And like I always say, now you know why I’m such a bitch and never want to talk to you. (Just kidding…..sort of). I also disclose my innermost feelings to help with autism awareness. People know it must be hard, but they don’t really know why and how it’s hard. They think, ‘oh it’s got to be hard that he doesn’t talk, and can’t play with others, and has meltdowns,’ but there is so much more than that.

I get a little frustrated when some autism advocates say how important it is to appreciate who your child is first, instead of pushing therapies and worrying what society may think about them. As much as I 100% agree, I also have my child in therapy 8 hours a day so that he can learn to drink out of a cup, be potty trained at some point in the near future, draw a straight line, know how to take turns, be able to sit at a table for more than 2 seconds, know the difference between yes and no and how to shake your head accordingly, know how to open a door and open a bag of chips, etc, etc. This is not just about having him look normal to society, but more about him being able to hopefully live independently when he is older. And, to hope that when these professors pushing to kill newborns become more frequent, our weakest links (AKA, the loves of our lives) won’t be eliminated.

What Every Autism Mom Wants for Christmas

It’s 6:30 AM Christmas morning and I have been awake for over three hours. No, I’m not waiting for Santa, or busy wrapping gifts. I am lying in bed wishing I was busy wrapping gifts, or that I had a reason to be excited for Christmas.

Holidays are not usually the best of times in an autism home. The break in routine, the lack of therapy, and the family visits can be a bit challenging. And in our case, add the sharing of pink eye throughout the house to make the holiday just a bit more cozy.

My 4-year-old autistic son, who struggles with sleep issues, is snoring away, of course. I’m sitting here thinking about how I was when I was his age on Christmas morning. I couldn’t sleep because I wanted to hear Santa on the roof, and I wanted to catch him in the act coming down our chimney. I remember leaving cookies and milk so he could be refreshed. I couldn’t wait to go into our living room and see the couch full of wrapped gifts–everything I wanted.
I also remember Christmas morning 4 years ago. I was holding my baby in my arms and I couldn’t wait till he was a little older and he could have those excited feelings too, and we could lavish him with everything he wanted.

Well, that day is here, and it is nothing like that. My son didn’t ask for anything for Christmas because he can’t talk. What’s worse, he has no idea it is even Christmas. He could absolutely care less that he has 10 wrapped gifts waiting to be opened. And to top it off, he won’t even open them. He would be much happier playing with the paper they are wrapped in–throwing it around in the air, or putting it in his mouth and chewing on it. The only thing that will make him happy this Christmas day is the popsicle stash in the freezer.

Facebook and Twitter has not helped the “Holly Jolly Christmas” spirit this week. It’s just a big fat reminder of how different my world is from everyone else’s. All of the birthday and christmas parties we were never invited to……..all of the school concerts that my child will never sing in…….the christmas trees that we will never have up because my son will tear it down or eat the ornaments…….the family portraits that we will never have because my child can’t sit long or look at the camera…….the christmas feasts my child will never eat………the messages from friends asking me what Keegan wants for Christmas when I just wish they would understand that as sweet as they are, Keegan is not able to wish for anything……..I really could go on and on, but then someone might 1013 me for a psychiatric evaluation.

When I took Keegan to the doctor the other day for his pink eye, the doctor was asking me questions as though I was just starting on this journey. “Is he getting floor-time therapy? Have you read the article about the autistic boy and Siri? Is he getting assistance in school?” And, of course, the answer was “yes” to everything. Then he said, “You just have to find that key to open him up.” I told him, “we have been looking for that key, and trying every spare key we could find for over 2 years. I know he is so delayed and so hidden in his autistic world, but it is not for lack of trying, Dr.”

I realize there’s only one thing I want this Christmas, and that’s why I have been tossing and turning since 3:00 AM. I wish Santa would slide down my chimney and bring me that key.

Link This, Autsim!!!!!!!!!

I just opened my Facebook news feed after a couple of days of FB vacation, and the first post I see is about a new “link” to autism. Because I have a child on the spectrum, I am part of many autism support groups, both in person locally, and amongst social media. It seems  like everyday I see something new about a study that found some sort of correlation with autism. I’m here to say, I am so sick of it!!!

At first, I would read every single one of these and act accordingly. If they told me that autism is merely the result of a gut issue, I would buy the best probiotic I could find. If I read that it was a gluten issue, GF all the way! If it was a dairy issue, cut the cheese (pun intended). Then, you realize you are only left with a handful of food options. Then the “research” tells you that you can’t have any corn ingredient either, so then you are down to only 3 options to give your child. While you are starving your child, and following what all the books and research say, you realize your child is not improving, but is regressing instead. Then you try something else, because that’s what is in the updated autism news ‘links.’

You read that B vitamins tend to be very low in autistic children, and his third blood test confirms this. You order $200.00 worth of B12 shots through a special ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) pharmacy, and give your sweet little baby a shot in the ass every 3 days. You do this for an entire 5 straight months, because that’s what everyone says to do, and you still see no improvement and even more regression.

Now you are starting to get a little skeptical. You want to try everything because there is so much out there that talks about “curing” autism, but nothing is working, and is actually making the situation worse. The Dr’s tell you to try it for 1 more month to get the full effect. You are torn between torturing your child and “curing” this horrific “disease”.

Then you read that ‘paternal age’ is the big correlation to autism. Do you hate your husband for being old? Or hate that he is hating himself for being old? You then read that the pitocin that the Dr gave you when you were in labor could possibly have caused the autism. Do you hate the Dr for not giving you the option of taking it? Do you hate yourself for allowing that to happen, and not reading enough about pitocin before your delivery?

The list of “reasons” and “links” and “cures” go on and on.  So, what do you do? Do you turn off all social media and the TV, and live in your little bubble of ignorance? Only to later beat yourself up for not reading enough or asking enough questions to help your child.

Then, when you decide to check out new “links”, you start asking yourself questions like, “If autism was a gut issue, what does that have to do with my husband being old at the time of conception?” Or,  “If it is because of gluten, then how is it that all of the high functioning autistic children I meet eat gluten-filled diets all day long?” So, when do you stop the madness? When do you say, ‘I don’t give a shit how or why my son is autistic.”? Or do you continue to jump on one leg 3 times while holding your breath and patting your tummy with your left hand with one eye closed because that’s what the books say to do to cure the autism?

I don’t think it ever stops. At some point you have to weigh your options. You have to assess if you have given it enough time, if you are seeing improvement, and if it is within reasonable limits. You also have to let go of any guilt that you may have about your own role in his autism. You have to ask yourself why it is so important to ‘cure’ him, and what that means to you.

Someone told me today that they drank out of the water hose all the time when they were little, and they were fine. So did I. So, of course, I immediately thought ‘maybe that’s why my son is autistic.’ Sorta jokingly, but not really. This is the kind of thing I’m talking about. This is what we parents of autistic children do all the time. Overanalyze, over-assess everything because there is no reason or cure…………yet. But we still try, because that’s what we do. And we never give up.

The best advice I was given while reading one of those ‘autism links’  is to love your child unconditionally. Don’t let your child think that you believe he is ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ because he is not considered ‘normal’. Appreciate him for the awesome person that he is, and learn to love his oddness. If only others could do the same, there wouldn’t be so much emphasis on the cure.

 

Why Is Your Son Autistic?

I have been asked this question a few times. Why do I think my son ended up with autism? Well, if I had the answer to why anyone has autism, I wouldn’t be writing this right now, and I would probably be really rich. And, my son would probably not be autistic. I don’t mind getting asked this question, because I know they mean well, but I obviously have no idea.

Everyone has heard all the “theories” as to why autism exists. Is it a disease or a disorder? Is it neurological? Is it from those damn GMO’s or the vaccinations, or both? Is it really just a ‘gut’ issue, and they just need a really good probiotic, or a gluten-free diet? Or maybe just some essential oils will do the trick to somehow stimulate those brain waves. Or, maybe if those “old” people would stop having babies, there would be no autism.

Obviously, I have no idea where it comes from, but we all have our theories. I could give you my hypothetical opinion, but it would be just that…….an educated “guess”. It is, however, a fact that very young people have autistic children, so there goes that idea. It has also been proven time and time again that vaccinations have NO correlation or causation of autism, yet people still refuse to vaccinate their children. I could go on and on, but I won’t.

You can also look at the other side of “why”. The philosophical and somewhat biblical theories. Without getting into religion, why would God allow this to happen to me? What is the reason I ended up with this challenge? You would be surprised, but there are many different theories on this, too. For instance, I don’t dwell on the “why” as much as my husband does. I look at is as “well, I guess for some reason, God wanted this for me.” Maybe those few terrible things I did throughout my lifetime…….I’m finally getting my karma. And I’m good with it. Not so good with the struggles I go through on an hourly basis, but good with the “punishment”, so to speak. Let’s move on and deal with the situation at hand. Maybe in the long run I will be a better person, and that’s what was meant for my life journey.

My husband, on the other hand, is still stuck in “why.” He feels he has been so good his whole life that he should be rewarded and not challenged. He didn’t do anything to “deserve” this. I can very well respect his view. However, I can’t say the same because I have not been the saint that he has.

Nothing is right or wrong from these particular perspectives.  I do, however, think that the more positive you try to be, the more positive your relationship with your child and the more positive the grueling journey. Is this easy? Hell no. But this is what I try really hard to focus on. I can’t control the reason he is autistic, and I’m finding that I also can’t control the cure, no matter how hard I try. But, I can control how I handle the situation, regardless of the “reason.”