Autism awareness can lower a few raised eyebrows

I knew very little about the autism spectrum back in 2006, when I met the young boy who would become my son. My wife and I had been dating for several months when we decided it was time to introduce each other to our children. She explained that he had Asperger’s Syndrome and likely wouldn’t make eye contact — and to not take it personally if he avoided any physical contact like a firm handshake.

“And whatever you do, don’t tousle his hair,” she instructed with a squeeze of my hand. “He really doesn’t like that.”

Autism is a neurological developmental disability with symptoms generally appearing before age 3, impacting the development of the brain in areas of social interaction, communication skills and cognitive function. 

It is the fastest-growing developmental disorder, affecting 1 in 68 children, and boys are four times more likely to have autism than girls.
While it is the fastest-growing, autism is also the least funded and, therefore, least understood disorder. The spectrum of autism is wide ranging, from those who do not speak (40 percent) to others who not only speak but whose talents have impacted the world: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, James Joyce, Albert Einstein, Emily Dickinson, Thomas Jefferson and Dan Akroyd are just a few.

Each summer, our family participates in the four-day KindTree Autism Camp south of Florence. The mission of the Autism Rocks camp is a simple one: For four days, let those with autism and their families be who they are, free from stares, apology or judgement. That’s because oftentimes the symptoms of autism aren’t as apparent as other developmental disorders. As a result, children with autism having a difficult time in social settings — or in extreme cases having a full meltdown — are quickly labeled as being “bratty,” “undisciplined” or simply the result of bad parenting.

With my son Connor in his makeshift wheelbarrow chair on the final day of the “Autism Rocks!” annual 4-day camp.

While our son, now 17, is well beyond that thanks to the support of teachers, students, family and programs that have given him the tools to understand his Asperger’s, getting there wasn’t easy — particularly in those public moments under the raised-brow stare of strangers.

Through the triumphs and disappointments over the last 10 years, we have always reinforced the message to our son that being autistic isn’t any different than being short or tall: Each provide challenges as well as advantages in life. Being willing to accept yourself for who you are is the key to recognizing the difference.

It’s easy to smile when everyone can be who they are.

Through my 17 years covering the communities of Florence and Mapleton, I’ve had the privilege of meeting many parents of children with autism, as well as adults living with autism. As I mentioned, I didn’t know much about autism when my son and I met in 2006. Since then, we’ve learned a lot from each other through the journey we’ve shared — including what it means for a father and son to share a firm handshake.

I hope you’ll join me in recognizing National Autism Awareness Month now through April 30.

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

47 thoughts on “Autism awareness can lower a few raised eyebrows”

  1. Lovely post Ned. So much is misunderstood and people are so quick to judge without seeing beyond the issue in front of them. I confess I was one of them but not now. Lovely photo of the three of you.

  2. Terrific article ned. I have worked with some very talented people who are within the spectrum and it always left me feeling slightly inadequate. Your son is a wonderful example of what a ‘village’ can do. thanks very much and have shared the link in my round up this evening. Sally

  3. Thank you for this. Autism awareness and understanding is definitely needed, across the world. And I did not know those famous people are/were on the spectrum!

        1. Absolutely. You should see the movie Temple Grandin, which is based on a true story. It was nominated for a couple of Oscars several years ago. An amazing story of an autistic woman who changed the beef industry.

  4. I got here from Sally’s reblog, Ned – would have missed reading it otherwise. I have added a link to this very important and uplifting post under the Autism section of this months Mental Health Awareness Calendar and info.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to transform a world!”

  5. Thank you Ned for being one of those brave men who accept a child with autism/aspergers as your own and wasn’t afraid to start the journey…as a single mom in this town with a non verbal autistic son it is hard to find men such as yourself and it’s nice to see a good family in the know 🙂

  6. How wonderful of you to spread the awareness and share a part of yours and your family’s life here too Ned. You are certainly a pillar in your community. 🙂

  7. and bill gates too. wonderful family and perspective. as a teacher, i have been lucky enough to work with some of these kids, and they are always amazing people.

    1. Yes! The list goes on. Watching our son find his way and his comfort zone in life over the years has been a life-changing experience for all of us, and a big part of that has been his incredible teachers. We count our blessings every day for those wonderful people. Thanks for being one of them in the lives of others 😉

  8. So awesome that you guys are such great parents and do everything you can to make him feel accepted and loved. I have never known anyone really well with autism but I appreciate that it has to be a challenge raising a child with Asberger’s. I have another whole level of respect for you! 😚<3

  9. Having a child with Aspergers just simply sucks. It ca also have moments of hilarity and awesome thrown into it, but for the most part, it’s as real as real gets. and it’s the ugly kind of real many people are not comfortable talking about let alone accepting. I mean, in theory, other parents want to be shining examples of humanity, but the reality is, many are not and so they feed their off spring with the same foul misunderstandings and intolerance they were brought up with, which leaves educating their spawn to the same parents dealing with children who have actual issues as well. It is exhaustive. It never ends. You think you have things covered and figured out then puberty slams you in the back of the head. There are always new challenges and life doe snot simply progress as it did for yourself or your friends kids. You can be resentful of that and even dis-believe that ‘this’ is going to be your life. Like, your ‘real’ life! Panic is something all mothers of Aspie kids will feel at some point. Blind panic that we can not do it. We have nothing left to give some days. It is the most fiercely lonely place to be in the world, defending the child at your back who can be violently, wither mentally or physically, trying to climb through you. Parents of these kids are war veterans. They have seen and done things other parents would never had even considered. They are strong because they have had to be and therefore when they break they tend to shatter. Ad it’s why when they have support and love, that they thrive inside of it as it allows them to be a better parent and person to their vulnerable child.

    1. My wife’s ex-husband, who is the father of our Asperger’s son, spent the early years of Connor’s childhood denying the autism. That made for an unhealthy beginning that I walked into as his stepfather 10 years ago. And you’re so right about those tough days that just knock you down sometimes. There were many nights I spent holding him down as he went into a meltdown. But in an odd way, I think it built a level of trust that has blossomed over the years. It’s been five or six years since he’s had a full meltdown, and I see him developing coping and communication skills. I’ve learned to read when his mood is shifting and can defuse it most of the time. But there are still times when the world flips upside down and he storms off to his room. I suppose it will always be that way, but those moments you mention — the magical ones and hilarious ones — remind me of the person inside who is simply trying to connect to the world on his own terms.

      1. those moments? crazy how it’s enough to keep you going. they are so lucky to have you and in this wide world, you found each other.

  10. For a hilarious read, on The Spectrumk, The Rosie Project, by Graeme Samson It’s about a 39 year old professor of genetics, who has Ausburgers. When he decides that he needs a wife, he devises a 16 PAGE questionnaire. Green also has another fiction book. I saw it on the Bill Gates Book list. Melinda, his wife, figured it would be a good read for someone with a logical mind. I recommended it on my blog Book List.,

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