The definition for autism is as follows:
“a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts.”
On paper, that definition encompasses everything required for the diagnosis of autism. It does not tell you, however, what exists at the heart of autism. It doesn’t tell you what it means to love, or be loved, by someone who sees the world in a very unique way.
Doctors will tell you that autism will make a person lack empathy. Therapists will tell you that it will make a person struggle for the rest of their lives. Strangers will tell you that it doesn’t exist and you (or the person you love who was diagnosed with autism) just have behavioral issues.
What none of those people will tell you is the way your life will be changed forever, and even through the exhaustion, confusion, and days that seem never ending – love will be more powerful, from the heart of someone with autism, than you’ve ever experienced before.
Text book definitions of autism make a person seem disconnected, unable to love, and incapable of feeling compassion. Medical professionals look at people with the condition and see, most times, shells of human beings without much of a light inside of them.
The truth is, the severity of autism differs in each individual it touches, but you’ll never know the true meaning of the word until it becomes part of your life. You’ll never see the spirit of a person with autism, and how beautiful it really is – until it affects someone you know.
If you wait for a definition of autism to show you what the condition looks like, you’ll be waiting forever. Autism doesn’t look like despair, failed dreams, or troubled hearts – it looks like wonder, uniqueness, and vulnerability all rolled in to one.
Autism looks like ten little fingers and ten little toes, it looks beautiful eyes covered with long eye lashes – even if they prefer not to make eye contact. It looks like a miracle brought into the world – one who has endless dreams at their feet.
Autism looks like stopping at the park to lie in the grass because it’s soft. It looks like taking off your shoes ten times at the same park because some gravel got in them and it doesn’t feel right. It looks like the sun – bright, vibrant, and sometimes too much to take in all at once.
Autism looks like two bubble baths a day because the water is warm and you it makes your skin feel smooth. It looks like hair you can’t quite wash because the skin on your head is tender, even through it’s not on the rest of your body. It looks like a dimpled smile when the water splashes out of the tub and lands in your mommy’s lap.
Autism looks like making wishes, like tiny fingers that wrap you right up around them. It looks like tears on the day the diagnosis comes and a hug, a sympathetic one, from the child who doesn’t understand what the word means because they’ve never truly known life without it. It looks like change, like the unknown, and for a moment – autism looks like fear.
Then, you remember that autism looks like joy, happiness, and love. You remember that autism is just a word and the papers that explain it don’t mean anything when the person who has it means everything.
Autism looks like you, it looks like me, it looks like the child who goes to therapy every Tuesday afternoon. It looks like the kid who can’t wear socks because they don’t feel right on his feet. It looks like the child who carries five stuffed animals so that he feels safe and rubs his ear to fall asleep. It looks like the girl who can’t brush through her hair because the sensation feels weird on her scalp, looks like the quiet boy you pass in the hall on your way to history class. It looks like the girl who laughs with her friends at lunch and goes to the bathroom before her next class for ten minutes just to calm down.
Autism looks like the boy who wants to interact but has been told he’s too rough, too loud, too much – and chooses to sit out instead. It looks like the girl who was made fun of one too many times for being ‘quirky’ and decided against the football game on Friday nights. It looks like the child who can’t speak and instead communicates through glances and nods. It looks like the kid who wants to fit in, but is too scared to try.
Autism is everywhere, in more people than you know, and the only thing that makes autism different is a lack of love, compassion, and knowledge.
Autism looks like a beautiful life – if only you take the time to understand it.
If you’d like more information on autism, please visit autism support and find out how to enhance the lives of people who feel a little differently than most.
Autism is different, not less.