Another Kind of Awareness

Monday, April 1, 2013

It's April again.  In general, I don't really engage in the Autism Awareness Month thing beyond that random situation everyday life sent our way last year.

But this time around, I felt like I actually had something relevant to contribute to the awareness conversation. 

The stated purpose of this annual event is to "educate the public about Autism."  But that's not the kind of awareness I'm here to talk about.  There are plenty of people doing that.

For this family, this year, we're working our way through another kind of awareness altogether.  The kind that is deep and personal and doesn't need a public campaign.  The kind that happens in its own time, and can never be relegated to a month on the calendar.

Self awareness.

Last spring, I gratefully took in the collective wisdom the spectrum community shared after I wrote this post asking for advice when it became clear it was time to tell Bear about this important aspect of himself.

Not surprisingly, the overwhelming advice was that it doesn't have to be - and probably shouldn't be - a big, stressful, sit-down conversation.  That it was better for everyone if the information was given in bite size, age appropriate pieces at moments when he was receptive.

He was obviously ready. He was starting to ask questions.  The kind of questions that were impossible to properly address without autism being part of the answer.

So over about six months, we had short little talks.  About things like how his special brain made some things harder for him, about how everybody is different in some way and how we would always be here to help him figure things out.

The only time he really caught me off guard was a day he was struggling with something and asked, "Mommy, what if I didn't have a special brain?"

Pillow pile is a favorite!
I swallowed the lump in my throat and told him that his special brain is what makes him who he is, and that he is perfect.

Not too long ago - right around his 5th birthday - Bear came to me and asked if I could help him put the bean bag on his platform swing, because "it helps my special brain feel calm."  He's been doing more of that lately - identifying what sensory input he needs and asking me to help him get it.

As I pushed his swing, something told me it was time.  He was calm and focused, telling me about the different ways he likes to play on his swing and how it makes him feel better.

I told him how proud I am of him for working so hard to learn how to feel better.  I asked him if he remembered when we talked about how having a special brain like his has a name.  He said yes.  I asked him if he wanted to know what the name was.  He said yes.

I took a deep breath and said "It's called Autism."

Bear asked "I have Autism?"  I said yes.

Then? My Bear shouted "I have AUTISM!! WOO HOOOO!! I'm AWESOME!!"  And ran off to play.

I know this was just the first step for him down the long, difficult path to self awareness.  Of eventually understanding, accepting and navigating the challenges this neurology presents.

But you know what? I think he's off to a fantastic start.