I recently met a parent of an ASD child at a mutual friend’s house. Naturally, we gravitated toward each other. In the middle of our conversation about schools, programs, and summer activities, she said, “My son is not one of those non-verbal, severe kids. He’s smart and social. He just has some trouble interacting appropriately with other kids.” Hmm, I thought, a lot of assumptions in that statement. Does non-verbal mean severe? Does severely autistic mean unintelligent? How do we know for sure? Are we able to enter the minds of these children and find out what exactly they’re thinking? Are we able to test them accurately?
What would happen to one of us (fully functioning adults) today if we lost our speech/hearing/sight or had a paralytic stroke? Would we be able to communicate and interact with the world in the same way? Or would we appear disoriented? What if we lost a job that pays the bills? What if we lost a loved one? Would we have our bearings or would we feel a little lost and out of sorts? Maybe we will appear incapable, or unintelligent even, if looked at through harsh, judgmental eyes.
Autism is a such a complex condition that even the most competent medical experts from around the world are
struggling to piece the puzzle together. It is nearly impossible to test a child on the spectrum accurately. Yes, some children are mildly affected, and face challenges only in the social skills area. Others are more impacted and may have difficulty with speech and functional skills. But we really do not know the child that is trapped inside the fog of autism. The child inside may find every little sound (from the car honking to someone whistling) so grating that he may be forced to shut down just to survive the day. The child inside may find himself so confused by the swirling mass of little bodies on the playground that he may prefer to stim on the tan bark just to calm himself down. The child inside maybe so overwhelmed by the littlest changes to his routine that his entire day maybe spent engaging in rigid rituals to overcompensate for what he sees as unpredictability.
We have made great strides in spreading awareness about autism. News channels and internet blogs abound with stories of acceptance and inspiration. Let’s not reserve this acceptance only for those children lacking in social skills or only for gifted children. Every child deserves respect and dignity. Every child deserves a chance. Every child, no matter how severe he seems, deserves faith, and needs us to believe in him.
As parents of autistic children, we must be even more generous and encouraging of other children on the spectrum, or any struggling child for that matter. If we don’t believe in our children, who will? Next time you see a child who appears severely impacted, take a moment to acknowledge him. Give him a high five. Ignore his sounds and gestures.
Understand that he needs to do whatever he can to survive. Play with him if you can. Learn about him. Treat him like any other child. He will appreciate the gesture. Even if he cannot tell you.