Yesterday was Autism Awareness Day. It’s an awesome day marked by great organizations around the world working to increase the awareness of autism, raise funds for research and therapies and make the world a kinder place for those children with this disorder. My son is one of those kids. I am very aware of autism. In fact, one in 88 moms and dads are very aware of autism.
In the media, there is much written about equality for children and adults with special needs. I appreciate their motives and I firmly believe that each person has a right to fair treatment regardless of their physical or mental challenges. But I think equality has become a term we throw around and don’t really think about the consequences of truly fair treatment. My youngest says its not fair that her brothers get to stay up later, but she doesn’t want the responsibility yet of being older. The oldest says she gets special treatment, but doesn’t want to go to bed at 9:00 so that fairness is achieved. Any parent of ANY child realizes that there is no such thing as equality in a family. At any given time, any one of my three children will need “more” and only one of them has autism.
Sam has been blessed by non-equal treatment by more people than I can count or name. His school has always held him to high standards, but never to standards he couldn’t obtain. It has not been easy, but my son is being well educated by staff that care in a class that accepts him. Although this is the goal for each student, in order for that to happen for Sam, he has needed special teachers, special helpers and even a different curriculum. He is blessed by this inequality.Our customers have been extra patient while an inept, but very willing server, refilled their drink or just sat down to visit. They, and especially our coffee group, have involved themselves in his life. A host of grandparents to love you is not what most kids get. Our church family practically cheered the first time he read the scripture before the lesson. Even now, if it takes awhile to adjust the microphone just right and find the right passage; there is nothing but joy over a boy achieving far more than reading words. Perfection is never the goal. An uncle that makes sure that Sam knows for certain that he IS a “motorcycle dude” (contrary to what his sister says) doesn’t care about equal rights because sometimes equal isn’t better. A church camp that makes sure that passing out milk is THE most important job that week doesn’t worry that he isn’t being treated equally. I don’t know what we would do if the whole world expected Sam to be anything but Sam.
Having said that, any parent of an autistic child will tell you that there is no equality in a meltdown. There is no equality in speech sessions where he was so frustrated by us trying to get him to say “ha” that he simply screamed. There is no equality in the screaming; the screaming that happened during bath time, during fingernail cutting and especially during hair cutting. And there certainly wasn’t equality during potty training. None. There were times that my best wasn’t good enough; and that isn’t fair. This inequality that Sam must endure, that we must try and guide him through is difficult; it is enough to make us angry. There have been tough times, but there isn’t much a hug doesn’t fix.
It is my hope that next time you see someone who might need a little leniency, that you will not treat him equally. You have no idea what a couple of minutes of patience, an encouraging pat on the back or the acceptance of a meltdown can do for someone….even those with autism. You see, all of us have struggles. Nobody deserves to be held to standards that WE think are appropriate. There is no greater gift than being special.