A little over a week ago, I was watching one of my all time favorite tv shows: Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. I was looking foward to this episode because the chosen family was a married couple with three sons, and two of them had autism. The facts about the episode were known to me, but I had no idea how emotionally touched I would be until I watched it.
Here’s my question: Were you born “different”, and the world was not yet ready to accept who you really were? I was…I knew from around kindergarten that I was different from other kids. Unfortunately, it was not in a kind way. That time was my first experience with bullying, and being made aware that something unique about me was putting a target on my back.
As you are aware, growing up on the autism spectrum was not easy for me. Even when I was diagnosed and had answers, I was still no closer to feeling any more “normal” than I did before. Fortunately, as I got older, I began to understand that that particular word has such different meanings to different people. Even today, I may not fit into some people’s definitions of “normal”, but why should I even try? I would only be denying who I really am to please others!
Anyway, what I’ve noticed in the past eleven years is that awareness about Autism and the long list of complexities of the Autism Spectrum has grown exponentially. As I read magazines and books, attended conferences, met people on the spectrum and/or those who knew people on the spectrum, I found that there were leaps and bounds made from the time I was a little kid. There were still problems with those who had little or no knowledge about how to handle being around a child with autism, but it was good to know that there were options for people to know better, and consequentially, do better.
When I saw that episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, I found myself in the middle of a wave of happy tears; looking at them now, they were the kind of tears a man sheds only after one of his heart’s greatest desires has been granted. I saw the team do so many incredible things for the family, that I couldn’t help but be overcome with emotion.
The greatest thing about all that was done, was that not only did they have guidance from several specialists in autism research, but the team also enlisted the help of one of Autism research’s greatest pioneers: Dr. Temple Grandin. Dr. Grandin is a woman who was born with autism, and has used her talents with animals to become one of the most sought-after consultants for the cattle industry. Ever since speaking up about her struggles with autism and finding her way in the world, she has become an outstanding advocate for research and understanding.
I was so happy that Dr. Grandin was helping out on the home makeover; I couldn’t believe it! For the past eleven years, I have slowly begun to see changes in attitudes and levels of acceptance regarding people with autism. This episode was just the latest, and best reminder that the world has come a long way in accepting that people like me live in it.
Seeing all that the family received for their dedication in raising their children was a sign of hope that stories like mine are quickly becoming more common. Times have a way of changing quickly, and I, for one, am glad that this new era is a better one of tolerance and acceptance for all people affected by autism.