Happy Autism Awareness Day! Autism Awareness is often understood as neurotypical (“normal”) people increasing their sensitivity to the unusual aspects of people diagnosed on the autism spectrum. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But what if, just this one time, we saw Autism Awareness as the wide amount of things that a person on the spectrum is aware of?
One thing I’m aware of: sharing “awareness” becomes a virtuous circle, where you tell me what you’re aware of, I tell you what I’m aware of, and then we’re all aware of more. Awarenesses (I know, you’re getting a-wary of this) of the autistic increase the awarenesses of the neurotypical. Want to see how that works?
As the saying goes, if you know one autistic person, you know…one autistic person. So I can only speak for my son. And that, only barely. Because his talking and other communications are rather limited, I can only guess at what he’s aware of. But let’s just say that my guesses have been good for all of us. Here are some recent examples:
Dar is aware of raised voices, either at him or between his parents. This makes his lower lip jut out and his face collapse with fierce sadness, and that makes us, his parents, aware that we need to change our tone and make sure we only say what we need to.
Dar is aware of where we keep the TV remotes. He’s had 5 ½ years to get this, but he’s only keyed into it during the last few months. He drags us over to them, and that makes us aware that we can’t always give him what he wants just because we’re so grateful that he can express that he wants it.
Dar is aware of cartoons and Sesame Street and basketball. (In the case of the latter, let’s give credit to some Grade-A fathering paired with an exceptional Golden State Warriors season.) He doesn’t like it when we watch other things, and he makes his distress known with various scream-like noises. As I watch my umpteenth episode of Elmo/Dora/Thomas/Curious George/Daniel Tiger, I make various scream-like noises on my insides. This makes me aware that the Pixar phase of our lives may need to begin soon.
Dar is aware of playing with his food and playing with the dog’s water. Sounds like nothing, but he didn’t demonstrate awareness of either before 2015. So now I have to be careful not to simply leave him with his bean salad, lest I return to the kitchen to find beans all over the tile floor. I also have to do a complicated dance with the dog’s water. Since I can’t just leave it out, I have to lock Dar in the backyard for five minutes or so while I carefully bring the dog over to get a drink. (This is harder than it sounds, because my dog suspects everything to be a trap.) This makes me aware that going to restaurants with Dar is becoming more challenging.
Dar is aware of reaching for the kitchen sink and letting the water run. Again, this is recent. Adverse effects: worsening the drought, dampening his clothes, forcing us to change his clothes, compelling us to move knives from whence they once were safe. This makes us aware that we may have to put the whole house on childproof lockdown much sooner than expected.
Dar is aware enough to say “oh no” at every little bump or surprise. Again, this is new for 2015. Makes me aware that active talking with him remains a good idea.
Dar is aware of strangers in a way he never used to be…he walks up to them, especially non-adults, and hugs them or kisses their hands. It’s not everyone; does Dar have some sort of animal-like sensor (or sorting hat, or Santa Claus-like powers) that distinguishes the naughty from the nice? I’m not ruling that out, but it’s a little hard for me to say based on the evidence. I apologize profusely, and MOST, but not all, people are like “oh he’s fine!”
Dar is absolutely aware of his brother. At the best of times, this manifests itself in him doing something that would have been unimaginable before he saw his brother do it. At the worst of times, this manifests itself in what looks a lot like jealousy – expressions of hurt or anger. Either way, it makes us aware that all the sacrifices we made to bring his brother into and up in the world have been worth it. And that has led to things like…
Dar is aware of the appeal of the front part of the car. Specifically, since his brother began to demand to be up front (a request that we now occasionally accommodate in parking lots and in our driveway), Dar has also grunted to be let into the front of the car, where he (and his brother) press all kinds of buttons and switches and levers. This has reminded us to be aware that a Toyota Prius is a pretty darn special work of technology.
Dar is aware every time that I and his brother play chase…and he insists on playing it with us. This is a terrific breakthrough; he has otherwise steadfastly (every day, including yesterday) refused to participate with games that we play, books we read. But when his brother instigates the game where I chase him around the house, Dar likes to follow me and giggle. In our world, that counts as awareness of joy, all around.