My teenage son acts differently than most and, as a result, communicates differently too. Despite years of occupational therapy, he can’t wave “hi” or ” goodbye” well and, he rarely looks at you when you’re talking. However, over the last two years we’ve learned that he IS listening and nothing makes him more upset than when people ignore him.
Non verbal Autism has robbed him of the ability to conform to the social “norms” of society. Typical conversation is not easy for him as he types out each letter. One. By. One. People become impatient. They walk away or, they try and finish his sentence for him assuming this “helps.” People will also talk to ME about him, in front of him, as if he weren’t there. “Does he like sports? ” “Can he hear me with those headphones on?” I could have been this person. Actually, I’m sure I WAS this person.
Well, with Autism Awareness starting April 1, consider this your PSA. We have lots to learn when it comes to people with physical and mental differences. I will acknowledge that we’ve come a long way but, we’ve got some room to grow.
Here’s the top things I need you to know about my son and others like him.
1. He hears everything. TALK to him. Or, JUST SAY “hi”. This simple gesture can literally make our day.
2. Practice patience. If you ask him a question, please wait for the answer. Quietly. If you don’t have time for a response: JUST SAY “hi,”.
3. When you see folks with autism out and about … Know that this in itself is a tremendous feat. Wave. Smile. And, JUST SAY “hi”.
4. It’s ok to ask questions. My son types to communicate. It’s different. It’s ok to ask him questions about it. It’s not ok to stare and point. Worse case? JUST SAY “hi”.
5. Teach empathy. We don’t need sympathy or pity. I love my life. And, autism has been a tremendous blessing. My kid is freakin awesome! You should meet him! JUST SAY ” hi” and introduce yourself. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.
6. Most days special needs appears to mean ” ignore.” I need you to understand it just means “unique”. Seriously, if you take one minute to introduce yourself to someone different from yourself, you’ll leave that conversation a better person.