Jennifer is the mother of a young boy with autism and also works with individuals with communication disorders. Her wish for the future is for everyone to see the gifts people with autism possess instead of focusing on what they can’t do.
A couple of years ago, as my son was exhibiting the insidious onset of the signs of Autism at 2 years of age, I was busy in graduate school readying myself for a profession which supported people with all types of communication disorders. Who would I work with: children or adults? Which disorders, if any, should I concentrate on specializing in: fluency problems, motor speech issues, etc.? Little did I know how much one little boy would ultimately narrow my focus and provide me with my calling. As I’ve gone through my coursework and clinicals, the subjects of many of them hitting way too close to home, I’ve had my sights aimed at the future…for my son and anyone like him. My son, who has a extremely difficult time with verbal speech, communicates volumes to me. I love him for this gift that he has; he can speak by simply looking at me. It’s a type of communication that is pure, with no insinuations and no deceit. I think many people with Autism have this gift…and, yes: it IS a gift. “But how is it fair that these people cannot verbalize their thoughts and feelings and contribute?” you ask. I say that it is up to US to provide a way for them and, along with a way of communicating, to add a dose of dignity and respect for the gifts they have and the crosses they bear. Sometimes it seems that the neurotypical people are the ones who have the “problem” nowadays. We refuse to look past the verbal speech that we are used to, and we dismiss alternative ways of thinking. In the past I would approach people with Autism and even other conditions with neutral and ambiguous feelings. Because of my son, however, I now look at the people I come across with wonder and love…they are part of the newest civil rights battle of our age. It’s not about skin color this time, but about brain circuitry.
My wish for the future is for all people to see the GIFTS that people with Autism have and to help them to reveal those to the world. This could mean to find a way for the person to communicate, to give them a focus for their true talents, to provide them with whatever treatment they need (you hear me, insurance companies???), or to simply give them a CHOICE in their daily lives. Any of these things would supply them with the human rights we all should have: a right to live, a life with self-determination, a life with dignity, and respect from others. My wish for the future is for people to feel the way I feel when they see someone who has Autism: not as disabled, broken, cognitively useless people, but as people with a treasure built into their condition….we just need to dig a bit to unearth it. As my son continues to grow and becomes the beautiful young man I know he will be, I will keep digging because he is so worth it. They all are!!