First off, I want to say Thank You to everyone who read my previous entry. I never thought that writing down my feelings and sending them out into the Universe would be so therapeutic. Ever since I published my last post, I have felt like I’ve hit my stride, and will continue to write with a more purposeful rhythm.
Anyway, I’m glad to be here again, and this month has been pretty eventful for me. As you may know, April is both Earth Month and Autism Awareness Month. I feel that having an entire month devoted to promoting awareness of the Autism Spectrum is something very special.
Let me ask you, have you ever discovered that you were a part of history and didn’t even know it? Have you ever lived to see a moment when the world changed and it was ready to accept you as you were?
Well, for me, those things are true. I recently began to wonder just how long my Mom and Dad had known that I was “different”, and just how my experiences tied in to the growing awareness of Autism.
I started looking into the history of Autism online, and what I found was both interesting and enlightening. I discovered that Autism Awareness Month has been officially observed every April since the 1970s. It was first promoted by the Autism Society and the National Institutes of Health, long before it became a part of mainstream thought and conversation.
Back then, most people knew of Autism by the classic signs and symptoms: lack of verbal communication, strange flapping of arms, constant fidgeting, and almost non-existent social skills. When I was born in the early 1980s, there was no such thing as an Autism Spectrum or even the word Asperger’s, but my Mom and Dad noticed that I was “different” before I turned one year old.
I was told that when I was a baby, Mom was very protective of me and was very aware of when others would perceive me as different. In order to get me out in the world, she would take me to story readings and children’s movies at the nearest library so I could learn how to act and be present among other kids. While I was there, she would go to the psychology section seeking answers. Keep in mind that this was the 80s, there were no integrated computer systems or anything that resembled the current-day internet. Even with all the medical resources she could access, there were no answers to be found for years.
When I started Kindergarten, that’s when life became even more difficult. This was around the time that I began to feel society’s insatiable need for conformity. For the next several years, being in school would be a serious challenge as I dealt with the scrutiny and hushed whispers behind my back. Of course, I didn’t even realize that I was doing anything “wrong” because someone so young has little or no self-awareness, especially if a child is born on the Spectrum.
My Mom discovered the answer around 1994 when the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome was first published in the DSM or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. This was a revelation because before then, there was no vocabulary that Mom could use to define what my condition was. Just to be able to put words to my differences was a relief, because I had been misdiagnosed with many different personality disorders and schizophrenic-like conditions.
High School was the major turning point for me, it was the beginning of my new journey. I was introduced to three different school counselors who opened the doors to new options available to me on campus. Not only did I get placed in a special needs class known as “Individual Instruction” for my Junior and Senior years, but each of these counselors went to my teachers and classmates to speak on my behalf and enlighten the people who thought they knew me until they found out the truth and began to understand.
In April of 2000, I was privileged to be taken on a trip to Dallas, Texas with my Mom. She brought me there for a 3-day conference on Autism and Asperger’s. It was there that I first met world-renowned Asperger’s Syndrome research pioneer Dr. Tony Attwood. I encourage everyone who reads my blog to look up Dr. Attwood and all of the information he has written in his books about the subject.
When I was there, I also met people in the audience who were looking for help with older children on the Spectrum. To this day, I don’t know exactly how my chance meetings affected the lives of those people, but from what they told me, I was able to give them hope that their own children could one day be as confident and functional as myself, and that’s what I hope to keep inspiring in others.
Today, with all the scrapes and bruises that I’ve incurred during my journey along the Autism Spectrum, I believe that the world has come leaps and bounds in its awareness since I was born. I can see that there is a burgeoning selection of resources for parents with young children. However, I find that there is still a meager amount of resources available for adults. I’m glad that there are actually things available, but the selection could be better. After all, even children on the Spectrum grow up eventually, if they aren’t bullied to death, God Forbid, but that’s another subject all together.
You know, when all is said and done, even though my diagnosis could have happened at an earlier age, I am grateful that it did happen. My Mom is especially grateful that we live in a time when the awareness about this condition has grown exponentially. Also, I discovered that my Dad has been able to enlighten himself as well as me, so our relationship has been able to continue on a positive road.
I am also grateful that I have been witness to moments when the world changed to fit the “Aspie”. It is worth noting that today, the number of children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder is now 1 out of every 88.
Sometimes I’ve felt like I was the only person living with Asperger’s, but that was only one half of the equation. In the past two years I’ve realized that my life on the Spectrum is not a Universal experience because each person’s life and support systems are different, which makes my experience one of many different ones, meaning no two “aspie” lives are exactly alike.
I have said before that my experience does not represent all people on the Spectrum, but it does represent my own with all the universal challenges that living with Asperger’s brings. I am glad that my growing self-awareness has gone hand-in-hand with the world’s Autism Awareness. To have come so far in so few years is a validation for me that I am living at the right time to travel the path paved by other Aspies and advocates while paving my own.