April is Autism Awareness month and really from coincidence, I've been doing a lot of thinking about Autism.....what's going on in the research? What am I seeing in my own practice? What are the some of the myths out there, even my own myths? So today, a myth re-thought.
My own personal contemplation started back around Valentine's Day. My son Jonathan has a boy in class that he really likes talking with and even hanging out with. His friend's name is Mike. I didn't know Mike at the time, but it was few days before Feb 14 and Jonathan wanted to be sure Mike had a Valentine card during the class exchange. See Mike's not always in Jonathan's class, he's part of a Pilate Program at school and he's "included" in Jonathan's class at various points during the school day. And yes, Mike has Autism. Jonathan had run out of the store bought Valentines so he made Mike a hand made one, not really thinking too much about it, just wanting to be sure Mike had a Valentine. It was a heart cut of of paper with a handwritten note.
A few days later I received an email with the subject "your lovely son"......
It was from Mike's mom and this is what she had to say:
I’m the mom of a 5th grade boy Michael who is in the facilitated communication “pilot program” at school. I was quite worried that since Mike isn’t listed in the teacher’s homeroom, that he wouldn’t receive any Valentine’s Day cards. But your son Jonathan gave him a handwritten Valentine’s Day card that said “Happy Valentine’s Day, Michael. I hope you have had a good school year. I love having you in my class.”
I must tell you that your son’s card made my son’s (and my) day. Mike was over the moon happy with the words from your son. Mike is so worried that he disturbs the students and he is a little intimidated. Prior to this, he was at another school with all kids with autism and only 7 kids in his class. This has been a big transition for him. But since he received Jonathan’s card, he has said that “I really like school” and “I’m so glad to be going to [my new school]”. I just wanted to make sure you knew what a lovely son you have and what a big difference his message has made for my son.
Reading this made me cry. I'm a crier, yes. Not because of what Mike's mom said about Jonathan, but because it was a smack in the face that simple things really MATTER. I know I should know that, you should too! But it's moments like this that serve as a stark reminder. It made me think about Valentine's and letters in general. How nice would it be to receive messages of encouragement, compliment, thanks, etc from your friends, family, and classmates on Valentine's Day or any day? That's the stuff that feeds the soul, that brings us up when we are down or even when we just need a little confidence boost. Do we really tell others how we feel, give compliments, just say something nice to someone....just because (even if they aren't nice to us)?? We live in a time of tweets, email, text, IM, but the hand written note is slowly disappearing. Even for me it's hard. I know my mom loves cards, but sending them somehow seems like a lot of trouble. Maybe my challenge here and my challenge to those reading this in general, is to try and say something extra thoughtful at least once each day. Something that takes a little extra effort. Feeding and nourishing the soul matters, to everyone, even the child and the parent of the child with Autism.
The reality is that persons with autism will almost certainly have pragmatic language difficulties. They might not look you in the eye. They might make weird noises or gestures. And they might experience and perceive the world differently. But that has evolved into a myth out there that people with autism don't show or feel emotion. Emotion presents in different ways for different people, with and without Autism, but that does' mean it's not there. I can't speak for anyone with Autism and many with Autism haven't found a voice yet to speak for themselves, but clearly Mike's voice is saying that these small actions do matter; his soul wants to be nourished too. Small gestures are hugely important to him and his mom, just as they are to me and Jonathan.