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Change is in the air for autism

Credit for Learning
Credit for Learning
Photo by Jens Schlueter/Getty Images

August 31st

The last day of August marks a kind of New Year’s Eve; renewal of a new year, kids go back to school, vacation time is over. Normal stuff.

I remember with vivid clarity, when we sent our “typical” child to college. It almost brought me to my knees. Not because I was not proud, not because I wanted to hold him back, but simply because “change” is not my favorite noun.

This is also coming from a mother of another child who has autism. Does he have trouble with change? Does he have an inability to be flexible? Does he always need to have a plan? Apples and trees unite, when tendencies are shared within a family. Those of us, who are lucky, draw on our ability to compartmentalize. We know to accept inevitability. Some are not so lucky. But, and this is huge ….. Flexibility can be taught!

Back to my story. So I joined the ranks of thousands, as I sent my first boy to school. My tears were massaged by sentiment. It kind of felt good to cry. I remembered that my mother told me that when she and my Dad dropped me off to college, she sobbed all the way home. It’s a generational comfort zone. Nevertheless, my tears were contoured by a nagging worry. I even wrote about it. There would not be a traditional college for my son with autism. The article was titled: A dream deterred: no college for autism.

I have thought a lot about this, and it may just be that educational degrees come in all sizes shapes and colors, much like snowflakes that depict each individual with autism. My son’s college experience has been about reaching milestones. He has earned degrees in flexibility and managing social cues. He has earned the key to independence, an invaluable tool. He has learned to stretch his comfort zone, a Herculean task. Perhaps there is no Cum Laude attached to such milestones, but I assure you, they are hard fought and magnificently earned.

This degree is sometimes shared by parents as well. They learn to be chameleons, while raising a child with autism. Our emotional rollercoaster is a constant companion. It is mostly about bulldozing barriers, both for our child and society at large. The learning curve cuts both ways and the only way to effect change is to tell our story.

This is a new year for autism. Rarely a day goes by that there isn’t an article about job opportunities and interest about autism diagnoses. There is a conversation going on, that is hitting the tip of the autism iceberg (details here). Conversation, then action are vital partners for the future of our children.

So Happy New Year, autism! Change is in the air.

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