Last week I wrote a blog on training. In it, I talked about my grandson Daven. My wife and I are raising Daven. Daven is Autistic. When writing the Blog I had not remembered that April is Autism Awareness Month. It seems obvious to follow on that Blog with one on Autism. Here is the definition of autism;
A mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts
Okay, that is clear as mud and it gets worse. Professionals talk about the “Autism Spectrum” as they usually sweep the hand in an arc. I get the impression that this is one of those cases that doctors can’t really explain, so they create this vague classification that covers everything just in case. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing the medical profession on this one. They have done some great research and they are diligently trying to understand the disease but they are just scratching the surface. Autism often goes hand in hand with several other ailments like ADD, ADHD, OCD and an alphabet of others. Treatment includes medications to treat the symptoms (not the actual disease) and multiple therapies.
I talked about the “spectrum” of autism. With Daven, he is almost four and doesn’t talk. He has a small vocabulary that is expanding and we are hopeful he will be vocal. Many autistic children will never talk. Others have a normal vocabulary and communicate fine. Daven is very social. He likes people, gives hugs and kisses and will grab a stranger’s hand in our home to show them his trains. We are very blessed that he is social. Some children do not show affection and even pull away at a person’s touch. This is just a small part of the “spectrum”. Autism presents itself with so many symptoms and such varying degrees that it makes it difficult to even diagnose.
Autism was not well know or diagnosed when I was younger. My first encounter with autism was when I was in high school. In a community service class I was assigned a special education class for multiply handicapped children at an elementary school. The therapist assigned me to a 7-year-old in the class. I asked them what I was to do and they told me to play with him. They gave me guidance on what activities but my task was to just play with him for my one hour per day. He was very cute and was very social and loving. In a very short time his eyes would light up when I entered the room. He would run to me and jump up for me to hold him. He rewarded me with big hugs and a level of excitement that was truly contagious. He loved piggybacks. We would walk beams, play with balls and wrestle around on the play mats. I think I got much more out of the relationship than he. I sometimes wonder where he is today and how he is doing. I am optimistic he is doing well. No one with that much love and excitement would fail to have a wonderful life.
Outside of that I had no other encounters with autism, that I was aware of until one of my favorite movies, RAIN MAN. Rain Man starred Dustin Hoffman in the character of Raymond Babbitt. Raymond was a savant. Savants are often associated with autism. They show extreme abilities in memory and often in art, music, calendar calculations, mathematics and spatial skills. Some savants can listen to a classical piano piece and then sit down and play it. Others can re-create perfect replicas of paintings. These are extreme cases but they are amazing. Rain Man was based on a real life character Kim Peek who died in 2009. Peek had memory and math skills beyond comprehension. He could beat a calculator in answering complex math equations. He could remember the day of the week and the weather for almost any date. In the movie, Raymond could perform amazing mathematical equations but would tell you that a candy bar or a new car cost about a hundred dollars. In one scene in the movie Raymond and his brother Charlie (played by Tom Cruise) lean into one another and rest their foreheads together. It is significant because Raymond often reels when touched. It was a symbol of the bond formed by the two characters. I sometimes will do this with Daven and think of Hoffman’s character Raymond. Daven is not a savant but he shares the disease autism on this huge spectrum of abilities.
So it is autism awareness month. What should you be aware of? Your children don’t have it. Here is my answer to that. Understand that it is out there. When you are in the store and you see a child “misbehaving” in your eyes. You roll your eyes and make a comment about the parents not controlling their kid. Maybe the child is autistic. They have different ways of communicating that often appears to be acting out. They are often developmentally delayed and may show the terrible twos at five or six. Be understanding. Writing this, I took a break and went to the grocery store with Daven and my wife. Leaving the store, Daven saw something he wanted and began crying as Cheryl walked him out. An older gentleman passed and muttered something about a spoiled child. Cheryl called him on it. “What did you say?” He muttered nothing. Cheryl said”He’s autistic you son of a bitch!” I was across the aisle loading packages in the car. Cheryl told me what he said. I stooped and politely made him “aware”, “He’s autistic you son of a bitch, Get in car and get your ass home!” I think he is now aware of autism. Great start to the month.
We are very fortunate with Daven. He is very social and you can’t help falling in love with him. He gives and accept affection freely. He is starting to build a vocabulary and use it. We have strong hopes he will talk. He is smart and understands. Daven will be able to adapt and have a great life and Cheryl and I are blessed to have him. Parents of autistic children share one goal. To give their children the tools to live an independent life when they grow up. Through doctors, therapist, medication and lots of love we all fight to give them the life skills they will need to survive. Our one true hope is that they will learn the skills to live a happy life after we are gone. So don’t feel sorry for the parents or the children. Every one of those parents feels blessed by there special kids. As much work as the parents put into their kids they all feel they are the ones that get the most back. Be understanding not judgmental, be hopeful not sad, and offer your prayers. That is what I ask from you as Autism Awareness.
If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to give Daven a Big Hug.