I read a post on Facebook that said, wouldn’t it be nice if we celebrated Individuals with Autism in April instead of just making it about Awareness. I loved that idea, I have always tried to make Mateo’s Story about celebrating him and all of his accomplishments. April has been Autism Awareness month for quite a while, and during this time I have seen some horrible write ups in the past about Autism and some incredible ones. I would like to see a lot more of the empowering and encouraging ones. But Autism Awareness should really be Autism Acceptance and Understanding, not just about numbers and figures but about the individuals.
I know that Autism is not about puzzle pieces of bright colors, or rainbows. A blue light doesn’t truly represent the struggles a person with Autism face or the battles we take with school districts, insurance companies and doctors to get the support and services needed. It is hard to find anything to truly represents the person and their family, but we need a starting point. We need a way to build our community to include our friends and neighbors, the strangers we come into contact with every day and the people making the hiring decisions. A bridge to bring us all together in understanding Autism and Neuro-diversity.
Autism is not a disease. I do not have Autism so I cannot give a viewpoint of anything other than a mother of one incredible kid who has Autism. I wouldn’t change one thing about my son, but I would love for the world to better understand him and the difficulties that he faces each day when he goes out into the world. I would love for others to better understand so that they can stand up for him against the cruel people in this world, that may bully or taunt him. Statistically speaking children with Autism have a much higher rate of bullying. I want as he grows up that he finds a peace with his diagnosis and for him to know that I will always be here for him on his journey.
Mateo was diagnosed with Autism at around 2 1/2 years old, although we suspected it before his second birthday. He was always a very intelligent little guy with few words. He figured out the DVD player by the age of 18 months. He’s always been drawn to technology and building things. He loved building amazing designs with his train tracks around the house as he played with his Thomas the Train set, and he was always very imaginative. Today he builds amazing worlds in Minecraft where his love for building and technology have helped him to be very advanced for his age on the computer.
His neurologist actually didn’t believe us when we told him how Mateo liked to play pretend since that’s generally not a trait of Autism. I learned early on not to follow those lists of Autistic Traits. Autistic traits seem to come and go for Mateo and every person with Autism have very unique characteristics. Some are verbal, others aren’t. Some people have a lot of self-stimulatory behavior like Mateo does, others do not. Some are wonderful at Math others at Art. Although every individual on the Autistic Spectrum have very different needs, but there are many similarities across the board. Most have sensory issues where bright lights, loud sounds, too many people talking in one room can cause anxiety and stress. Their filter is very different as well as how they process everything around them.
My wish for Mateo is happiness, what we want for all of our children, and a world that accepts him for the person he is. A world that is understands that his uniqueness is also his beauty. That he can get overwhelmed at times and you may need to slow down when you speak to him. He doesn’t need to look you in the eye to indicate he is listening to you, he is absorbing each word. That as he grows up and needs a job that his quirks don’t indicate his abilities, that you can look past those to see all that he can offer. That his lack of words do not mean he is not listening to every word being said. Quite the opposite, he hears and understands it all. He is sensitive and his feelings get hurt very easily and his biggest desire is to not stand out or be excluded. He wants to fit in, and doesn’t understand why you may not have the same likes and interests that he does.
From the Autism Unveiled Project an individual with Autism wrote, “Autism is my destiny. Destiny is to seek – not to fight against. We may call the same word ‘destiny’ as ‘luck’ or ‘fate’. If autism is my path, let me walk it well, let me understand my life walking my path,”
What a powerful statement. I wish for Mateo to find his path wherever it leads him and know that we are here supporting him on his journey. That he finds to accept his Autism within himself. I will always be here to advocate for him along his journey, and to help him find that voice to eventually advocate for himself. I also hope that through Mateo’s Story we bring a little more understanding about individuals with Autism and with that we eventually bring Acceptance and Inclusion.