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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40 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. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Daily – 5th April 2017 – Robbie Cheadle, ALK3r, Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, Ned Hickson | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  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!

  4. Pingback: April 2017: Mental Health Awareness | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  5. 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.
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to transform a world!”

  6. 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 🙂

  7. 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. 🙂

  8. 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.

    • 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 😉

  9. 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

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