Tuesday, January 22, 2013

I Have a Dream for My Son and Autism

We talk about differences a lot in our family. I want both my children to grow up knowing that different is not less. Different is ok. In fact, different is better than ok. Different is a reason to celebrate.

Often we talk about how God created everything and everyone, making them perfectly different and special. I want my kids to know that they were made perfect.

I know the time will come when Jacob will realize that he is different. Maybe it will come from his own realization, or maybe it will come at the expense of some other child making fun of my son. I don't know how, but I know it will happen at some point.

What is most ironic about that is, that Jacob longs to be different. In kindergarten he came home from school demanding to know why he wasn't able to speak Spanish like some of his friends in class. Even in preschool at the age of four, he wanted to know why he couldn't have dark skin like his friend.

Just last month after school while getting in our van, Jacob said to me that his friend "L" was different. My response was a simple "Oh yeah?" waiting to see what more he had to say about his friend who he eats lunch with who happens to be African American. "Yeah, L has a peanut allergy! He has to eat at the special peanut table for lunch and asks me to sit with him. Why don't I have a peanut allergy?"

So my son is jealous of his little friends and their differences, wanting for himself to be different. He knows that differences are something to be celebrated. Yet he fails to realize that the world already sees him as different.

Sunday night as we were driving home, I said to Jacob, "I keep forgetting you don't have school tomorrow," knowing that Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Thinking it would be a teaching moment, I asked Jacob if he knew why he didn't have school.

"Because it's Martin Luther King Jr. Day!" he announced from the backseat.

Wow! I was impressed he knew the name, and even correctly, but before I could ask more, Jacob went on.

"He did great things to make life fair for everyone, because a long time ago black kids had to go to the bad school, and white kids got to go to the good school, and that was just wrong. Then everyone could go to the same school. And before black people had to sit in the back of the bus, and white people sat in the front, and sometimes black people couldn't even sit, and that was not fair!"

Wow, again! I was shocked that he knew so much. He must be paying attention more in school than I thought. So much for that ADHD diagnosis!

He then went on to talk about God making everyone special.  Such a pure message from a seven year old boy. A boy who many would see as different. Who others would not be so willing to accept.

Martin Luther King Jr. fought for equal rights. Whether at that time he knew he was fighting for my son as well, I doubt it. But Martin Luther King Jr. did help pave the way for my son. Forty years ago Jacob's lack of eye contact would have been viewed as disrespectful. His need to pace the classroom would have been considered defiant. A proper education wouldn't have happened for my son. There wouldn't have been paras for additional support, or IEP meetings to keep him on track. No, my son would have been left behind, pushed aside, viewed as less.

So today I thank Martin Luther King Jr. for what he unknowingly did for my son and others by bringing equality to the forefront. But there is so much further to go. Autism is just in the beginning stages of being understood and respected. Although we have made progress in the last forty years on Autism, the road is still quite long. Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., I will never become silent for my son and for Autism.

I have a dream of my own. A dream for a world for my son that learns acceptance and equality for everyone. That sees different as more, not less. I have a dream where judgment is replaced with understanding. A dream where someday we will be able to prevent Autism. A dream where someday treatment is affordable and available to everyone. A dream where everyone's hearts are as accepting of differences as my sweet son.

Do you have a dream?

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