He's eight. He good at playing Wii games. He loves to eat bacon. Just like so many other kids his age. But unlike those kids, my son has to work every day to accomodate the world he lives in.
According to the newest batch of statistics, Autism has increased 78% in the United States alone. What used to be a 1/110 ratio is now a 1/88 ratio - with one out of every fifty-six boys now being identified as belonging on the autism spectrum.
I don't really feel that autism has grown so much as our ability to recognize and diagnose it has. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder used to be grouped in a lot of different disabilities that didn't really speak to all of their disorder. They were "slow learners", "hyper", "high-strung", "overly-sensitive", "needed speech therapy", "shy", or any plethora of labels you wanted to give them. Some fit some of the time, some didn't fit at all. None were the right fit, because we're talking about a spectrum, a whole host of behaviors that may present themselves as identifiers. And just like everyone else, no two autistic children are the same. More specifically, no two autistic children have autism in exactly the same way.
Autism is being diagnosed at a much higher rate. Many more children are being recognized as being on the Autism spectrum. It's sad because this means more families, like mine are affected, and more families, like mine are struggling with the impact of autism on their lives.
But it also means my son is far from alone. It means that now, they have to take notice, to learn that not all children use their brains in exactly the same way, to understand that communication is so much more than words on a piece of paper or a computer screen or even words that come out of your mouth. When Autism becomes more of the minority, it can no longer be ostracized as easily by the majority.
There's nothing "wrong" with my son. You need to know that. His brain is perfect, his intelligence level is right on track with his peers (and exceeds them in some areas), he's thoughtful, he's kind, he's respectful, and he has an entire lifetime to give to humanity. I refuse to allow him to be pidgeonholed because his neurons fire in a different rhythm or his synapses don't connect the same way yours and mine do.
He is not less for it.
He is more.
Imagine, if you will, that you were abducted by aliens in the night, and found yourself awakening on an entirely different planet. Here, the sun is a hundred times brighter, the atmosphere is full of strong and not always pleasant smells that turn your stomach or burn your nose. When the people who are indigineous to the planet try to speak to you, they speak an odd form of English and you only understand every third word. Instead of smiling when they're happy, they blow their noses. When they're angry, they shake hands. You can't seem to figure them out at all. To make it worse, the material used for your clothing is making you itch unbearably, and all the food you've been offered is very spicy, very salty, or the texture makes you gag.
And everyone is expecting you to just adjust.
So you do.
What choice do you have, really? This is the world you're living in, after all. It's not like you can go anywhere else.
So you eat their food (or at least, the kinds you can stomach). You wear the scratchy clothes and with some minor modifications, you get used to it. You run a script in your head of what gesture goes with what emotion, so you can act appropriately. You learn their language, but if they talk fast you still find yourself struggling to understand and relying on other cues to not appear to be stupid when someone talks to you.
And this you must do for the rest of your life. You find ways around, ways to work through, tricks that help you, but it's always something you have to consciously do, because it's just not the way you are.
Tell me then, who's the stronger person? The person showing the most skill? The person working harder every single day?
My son is a stranger to this world in many ways, but with the numbers growing and being recognized, maybe it's time we realized that we're all in this world together, and we can find ways to meet halfway and make it work.
Lets make it work for all of us.