April is Autism Awareness Month

April 12, 2017

"Children with autism are colourful - They are often very beautiful and, like the rainbow, they stand out."

-Adele Devine

 Look at that smile!

 

Meet my cousin, Landon. Landon is 8 years old, the oldest of 4 boys. He loves high-fives, counting his numbers, playing with cars & trucks and tablets, dancing and music. He thinks things he likes are 'awesome' and has a smile that can light up a room. He can listen to the same video over and over and over again and think it's hilarious every single time. He loves superheros and Paw Patrol and looks forward to eating popcorn while watching a movie. He can down an entire cup of juice before you even have the chance to tell him to slow down and loves birthdays because birthdays mean cake! He is as content playing by himself as he is with playing with one of his little brothers. Sometimes he likes to snuggle, but other times he doesn't want to be bothered. He loves watching movies, and like most kids, does not like to be told 'no'. He used to only eat one specific type of Beefaroni, but has opened up to more of the delicious food the world has to offer. He is incredibly smart, kind and a total joy to be around. 

 

Landon is also autistic. 

 Love this kid!

 

He was diagnosed when he was very young after a stay in the hospital. We didn't know what that meant as it was uncharted territory for our family. The only examples I had seen of autistic children, did not offer a lot of hope. They were in movies and TV and the kids were always distant, unable to communicate and unwilling to be touched. While that is real life for many people with autism, that is not always the case. With autism there is a spectrum. 

 

In my family's case, we are blessed to have a child who has autism but is still capable of affection and who can mostly communicate what he wants (sometimes a little too much). That's not to say that Landon doesn't have his moments. Last year, my mom and I experienced a meltdown for the first time after taking Landon and his two brothers  Jaxson and Bryson to the movies. Autistic meltdowns usually occur as the result of being unable to manage emotions or anxiety. In this particular moment it seemed that leaving the movie theater was causing a sensory overload.

 

It was incredibly frustrating trying to figure out what he needed, while also making sure that we watched his brothers. We got looked at crazy, as I, with my 5'1" stature, was carrying this child who is more than half my height down the street. I was so sure someone was going to call the police to report that two women were forcing a boy into a van because he was kicking and yelling 'No!'. I felt so helpless. I can't even begin to imagine what was going through his mind; what he was trying to communicate or what he needed. The meltdown ended several minutes later after much sweat and tears.

 Landon, Jaxson and Bryson

 

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects people's ability to communicate and interact with others. There is no known single cause of autism and no known cure. About 1 in 68 people are born with autism in the US; more than 3.5 million American have autism. More boys are diagnosed with autism than girls.

 

Symptoms of autism include:

  • Lack of or delay in spoken language

  • Repetitive use of language and/or motor (ex: hand flapping)

  • Little or no eye contact

  • Lack of interest in peer relationships

  • Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play

  • Persistent fixation on parts of objects

Landon is deeply important to all of us and we only want to see the best for him. I admire his mom who goes to war for him several times each school year. She is a tough mama bear and I can only hope to be as fierce as her if I one day have a kid. Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to deal with autistic children, even those who are supposedly trained to. My aunt has had to be a super advocate to ensure that Landon is receiving the same education and opportunities that are available for kids without autism. 

 

I think that having a special needs child makes you stop to appreciate the small things in life. It teaches you how strong you and your family can be. It truly helps you understand the meaning of unconditional love. Because I have Landon in my life, I have learned how much fun it can be to celebrate the smallest victories in life. Whether its giving high fives because he tried a new food and liked it or cheering "Go Landy" because he demonstrated something he learned in school, the joy that he brings into our lives and my life makes it all worth it. I have also learned not to automatically jump to conclusions about a child who is "acting out" in public. You never know what that child is going through. 

 

If you have never interacted with someone who is autistic, or has any type of special needs, then you should. It is a rewarding experience. Volunteer with the Special Olympics. Participate in an Autism Speaks event. Donate to the Autism Society. There are still so many questions that need to be answered regarding autism. Please consider how you can help. 

 

For more information about autism please visit the Autism Society or Autism Speaks

 Improving our health literacy so that we all may live healthier, more abundant lives. 

 

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