If you're a long-time reader of this blog, you know that much of what we (Good Friend, Inc. co-founders Chelsea Budde and Denise Schamens) write about comes from personal experience. Whether it's something we've encountered while "in the field" or in our own homes, raising children with differently-wired brains, it's often illustrative of a greater truth or broader concept.
For example, when I took my son back to his diagnosing neuropsychologist for a re-evaluation, she reminded me the importance of teaching everything -- using opportunities to describe emotions, perspectives. So along those lines, when I or my husband does something "above and beyond" the call of duty, so to speak (Is there really any such thing?), for our son, we ask him, "Why would I do that?" And he responds, "Because you love me." It can be hard for him to remember that we love him when we're pushing him outside his comfort zone, so we like to rehearse this concept in moments of satisfied calm.
Recently, I unraveled a mystery about my boy before he did. He was somewhat surprised by this. I asked, "How do you think I knew that?" Observing that he was unable to come up with an answer, I replied, "Because I understand you. I've taken the time to listen and think about who you are, so I understand."
Quickly, he blurted out, from a parted wry smile, wagging his head with his hand on his hip, "Of course you should understand me!" And while I laughed at first at his teenage 'tude, I realized how profoundly true that is. And my heart broke a little for all the children whose caregivers don't understand them. (To be fair, I don't always understand everything my son does or thinks or feels, because I'm not inside his body. But I play detective when I don't understand to come up with a plausible explanation.)
In a HuffPost Entertainment blog article published last week by Caroline Presno, she quotes Dancing with the Stars' Tony Dovolani: "Anybody that has an autistic child or has one in their family, should take some time to get to know them because their life will be enriched by it."
And while our enrichment as people without autism shouldn't be the motivator to understand our loved ones and students with autism, it is a marvelous benefit. Going back to The Figureheads
' "We ALL Fit" lyrics
-- "so much beauty unexpected."We should take the time to understand our students and loved ones with autism because they deserve to be understood
. They are no less worthy of a comfortable environment, accessible education, social relationships, recreational opportunities, freedom of communication, quality mental and physical healthcare, and assertion of self-will than we are.
Communities have to build themselves on that inclusive foundation. It will drive policies regarding human services and direct funding -- because we know people with autism are worthy.
Good Friend, Inc., is just one small organization doing its part to reach children as young as 5 with that awareness-acceptance-empathy message. Thanks for doing your part, too.