Sunday, June 2, 2013

Autism Has A Voice Without Words

My wife and I try to take a day trip every weekend and this weekend was no exception (I will be writing more about our travel plans in a future post). This is a big change to how we have been living our life over the past couple of years and I really believe that this is a change in the right direction. Our drive this week was particularly short but it goes to show that you don’t have to go very far to have a great day.

Drexel Hill is only about 20 minutes down the road from our apartment and there may not be much to see in the way of scenery or places you would go out of your way to visit. Simply put it is not a destination spot. This was not a “tourist” kind of trip or a day of exploring, this was a day to we were able to spend an afternoon with a great family.

It is not unusual for us to visit friends when we have some free time (especially now that our schedule has opened up a little) but this was different for me as this was the first time I was able to meet them. My wife first got to know them when she became the personal care assistant for their youngest autistic son about a year ago. Over time, even having changed placements, my wife has remained in contact with them and a strong friendship has developed over the months.

Even though my wife has talked about this family ever since she started working with their youngest son and she has educated me as to the basics of autism, this was my first real experience with children with this ‘disability’ (my previous experience was at somewhat of a distance volunteering at a few Philly Friendship Circle events). By the end of the afternoon I came away with the simple reality check that spending real one on one time with a family with two autistic children will not only give you honest examples of some of the challenges that the family faces but also many of the amazing attributes that these children have.

The older of the two boys spent much of the time on the computer during our visit. He quietly played a game while his parents were talking with us. He joined us later in the day, talking up a storm, and playing a game on the iPad with his father. You could tell he was a happy and healthy child who was enjoying time at home with mom and dad.

The younger son, with whom my wife had previously worked, is non verbal and shy. He was constantly nuzzling on and against the couch while he watch "Thomas the Train" videos on YouTube also, like his brother, on an iPad. A couple minor observations about this… First, I know many adults that don’t know how to use an iPad. Second, I know a lot of people who have never been on YouTube (and many who wouldn’t even know what it is).

The two children had one prominent thing in common and one significant difference. It didn’t take long to see that both boys love their parents and would show that in their own ways while, at the same time, the parents freely reciprocated that love and showed them the attention that, unfortunately, is lacking in many families. Communication is where you can clearly see a difference - while the older son openly talks and asks about this or that, the younger son is non verbal and communicates primarily through both his actions and his picture cards (hopefully, this is something that will change as he gets older). But there is communication, there is love, and there is an amazing family.

While differences exist and it may not be the easiest situation for parents to find themselves in, they have much more than most ‘traditional’ families and there is a lot more love and happiness in the eyes of those children than you will find in most kids their age. This is why I put quotation marks around the word disability above because from my perspective they may have differences but, in many ways, they are much more able than many of us. This is clear in the lessons we can learn from them if we just pay attention, look beyond the words, and listen to the voice of autism without words.