By Melissa Lake – Guest Contributor
“Autism is a developmental disability resulting from a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Both children and adults with autism typically show difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities. However, autism affects each individual differently and at varying degrees.” (Source: HBO Miracle Project)
Logan is a nine year old child who is living with autism. He’s also my son. To look at him, he seems like a completely normal, good-looking boy, with handsome features, a perfect complexion, and an olive skin tone. He loves his family very much, especially his older sister and her brand new baby. Of course, as his mother, I see his good qualities first and foremost, and he has many of them. But anybody who has dealt with this disorder firsthand can tell you that the challenges are just as plenty. I want to give you my personal perspective of what it’s like to raise a child with autism.
Let me first tell you a little more about Logan. Like most kids, he is easy going at home and likes to play with his toys (but fights for them at times). We have made a park in our yard where he swings hard with joy. We had a trampoline until he started getting the urge to push others off the edge of it. When Logan’s happy, he slaps his belly and laughs as he runs around in a small circle or jumps and waves his arms wildly. When he’s in anger, he hits his own face and makes a loud, disturbing noise, kicking and screaming like an infant. This can happen at any time.
Logan has gained weight from his medications and craves food upon seeing McDonald’s when we go into town. As far as he’s concerned, that’s the only reason for our drive because he loves it so much. This can cause a violent outburst if we don’t stop. I must tell him what we are doing, in what order, and how he needs to earn the privilege to have his happy meal. If I am off even a little bit, he will say “I NEED,” or “BUTTON, BUTTON, BUTTON, BUTTON, BOO, BOO, BOO” repetitively before his fit turns into a rage.
I want to talk mostly about public places, as that is where we experience the most difficulty. Many people mistake Logan for being stupid or spoiled when they first encounter him. Actually, he could read before he could walk, and can figure out how to program a DVR or DVD player within seconds. Although he knows most of the rules of society, he doesn’t understand why they’re important. As for spoiled, my son is not that either. It’s just that in his sense of justice, he doesn’t comprehend, for instance, how other people can eat before he’s even been given a drink when we’re at the restaurant. On a recent trip for ice cream, he threw a huge fit because he wanted his treat before we had paid. I always need to attend to him before my other children to put out these fires. Someone who witnessed the incident gave me a confused look. My quick and safest response in those situations is “he is not spoiled—he has autism.”
I have been able to educate a decent portion of my community about Logan, and how he deserves equal respect and treatment. As such, we have been met with a lot of support. One example of this took place at one of our local restaurants that Logan likes because of its low lighting and friendly staff. Another customer who knew nothing about him wondered if she needed to give him a whooping to fix his behavior. The server politely intervened to inform her that I was the only one there who would be able to calm him down. The lady was then thanked for coming in while being helped to the register.
I love my son and try to be patient with him, although it doesn’t always work. I know that I could’ve given up hope a long time ago, but with the support of those around me, I am striving to make his life the best it can be. In addition to raise awareness in my community, I want to do the same for the general public so it can become better equipped on how to treat autistic children, men and women.
I will write more about my experiences in the future. But as a final note to this introduction, I want to say one more thing. The next time you see someone who is a bit different, perhaps crying over a piece of gum, please kindly smile and offer him a piece if it’s acceptable to the adult caring for him. Most likely, you will get a great response and a brand new friend.