April is Autism Awareness Month. I find that both gratifying and unsettling. I find it gratifying because it is important to raise awareness regarding what it means to be on the spectrum. I find it unsettling that autism is viewed as a disability or impairment, and as such, worthy of a month.
It isn’t that I don’t believe those on the spectrum may need the benefit of additional medical care, different teaching modalities, or therapy to deal with physical limitations – I realize what is needed. What I find unsettling is that with the disability/impairment label comes an assumption of being less, broken, or imperfect. I rally against that as a grandparent of two autistic children.
I believe we are all on the spectrum somewhere. I believe in the spectrum is the range of possibilities for human beings. It is my hypothesis that over time, through what I would characterize as evolution, we have seen greater concentrations in some parts of the spectrum. Over the last few decades, autism – a place on the spectrum that is most basically defined as different from what we would qualify as “normal” – has seen exponential multiplication. I have heard folks refer to it as an epidemic (a term I do not favor). I believe it is a shift in the species. I believe it is a fundamental shift in our brains and what we need to do is to adapt and embrace our expanding framework for diversity in thought, experience, and ability. According to the CDC’s most recent numbers, 1 in 50 children have autism. The incidence of autism has been on an upward trajectory for many years and we will see these numbers continue to rise. This is who are becoming on the spectrum.
This sounds kooky to some of you, I know this. I understand that you have to see into the soul of someone on the spectrum -you have to realize the power of their gifts – to start to really appreciate that the autistic brain is not wired wrong, but is merely wired differently. You have to take a step back and reassess what was so profound about being “normal” and “average” and “typical”. The autistic are different…they are extraordinary…they are magical.
The Obama administration announced on Monday that funds ($100 million) will be dedicated to mapping the brain. I am delighted that there will be a dedicated research focus on better understanding brain activity in folks on all parts of the spectrum. I believe that from that research will come an understanding and appreciation for the diversity of brain activity across the spectrum. I also believe that in understanding the evolution of the autistic mind we will unravel answers to other questions that have been the focus of neuroscience for years. Oh how I would love to be part of that journey – unlocking the wonders of the brain. Alas, I know that I don’t have time for yet another career (nor do I have a good enough stomach or a soluble enough brain for the type and amount of education required).
What I can do – what I do – is try and provide a window into the world that I see in my grandchildren – Cortney and Noah. I do not have all the answers, indeed I have mostly questions. But there are things I know to the core of my being – things that I cannot prove with science (yet), but that are intuitive to my soul. These things are what compel me to share with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, friends, teachers, doctors – okay – everybody that will listen that those on the spectrum are not broken. They are different…and different is beautiful.
Day one thousand three hundred and sixty-four of the new forty – obla di obla da