We no longer make a big deal of Frankie's kisses and "I love you's" since they have become a wonderful reality. No more prompts, no more asking; he just expresses his love spontaneously and often just like his siblings. It hasn't been that long since an expression of affection from Frankie was only hopes and dreams. Well, this morning, he told me he loved us and that he loved "the whole world." This is pretty big all in itself because abstract concepts, like "the whole world" are pretty difficult to grasp for an Autistic child, but it means a lot more today since it's April 2nd.
April 2nd is the day designated as the World Autism Awareness Day. It sounds like a BIG thing and it is...but I have to confess that I've had my issues accepting Frankie's condition and I personally have been passive about joining efforts with organizations like Autism Speaks. Yes I have. It has been mainly because I am afraid. I am afraid of getting hurt. I am afraid of being exposed. I am afraid of changing minds and souls. Days like today make me uncomfortable because although they do a lot of good and create a lot of noise, I can't help feeling like our family is part of a "special group" - sadly, a misunderstood one. I am afraid of the rejection I have already experienced and it's ugly. It's really ugly. But hey, my Frankie loves "the whole world" and the whole world should love him back. I am thinking they will, if I take the time to write and to tell our story today, on this day of awareness and change.
Today is one of those days we tend to single out by themselves in our calendars but it shouldn't be this way...Christmas is not just one day and neither is Easter; if you are a Christian, you celebrate your faith everyday, not just on the high holidays. If you are Autistic, you are not Autistic just one day but the whole year, and every year for the rest of your life. True, to have a worldwide day for Autism awareness is indeed a beginning and it's necessary, still, to truly understand Autism is very difficult. Once you have met an Autistic child, well, you have met ONE Autistic child. They are all unique, working at different levels, reaching different goals and struggling with different challenges, but one thing they do share is to be misunderstood and labeled. This is why awareness is so important but so is tolerance and most of all is compassion.
I have read many blogs of parents with Autistic children over the past two years and I know that mine is nothing special but it's my family's personal story. Our personal struggles. I write to educate to awe and to inspire. I write so one day, a parent who just heard or will hear these devastating words "Your child has Autism," can dare to dream and believe that it doesn't have to be devastating. It really doesn't. I heard once that "if it doesn't kill you, it will make you stronger" - and this is true of living with Autism. You have to grow and you have to learn; you have to learn first in order to teach and when you become the teacher, you are the one who learns the most.
I am not going to sit here and type all the wonderful things I have learned while teaching Frankie the social skills he needs to survive. I am not going to tell you either that it hasn't been hard to read the ignorance on people's faces when they don't understand his struggle. I am not going to talk about the sharp pain I feel when I see the rejection from adults and peers because they don't understand...because they don't know. No, those are not things that I want to talk about because I would never finish this blog entry. What I do want to say is that if kids like Frankie can learn, so can we. "Typically developing" children and adults are also taught; we are taught the necessary tools for life and unfortunately we are also taught to judge; we are taught to reject; we are taught to shy away from what's different and difficult. It's time to "unlearn" these things and open our hearts to new beginnings.
Today is a day that stands for change. We all have the duty to learn and to teach. We are all teachers and we are all students. Let's change the world together for our children, Autistic ones and not - Perhaps then, we can truly say, like Frankie did this morning, that we do love each other and we love the whole world too...!