This was originally supposed to be published on April 2, but for some reason my post scheduler didn’t push the post out. :\
April is National Autism Awareness Month, and April 2nd is World Autism Day! There is a saying in the autism community that if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. The reason we say that is because autism affects everyone differently.
I think back to the way Sawyer was when he was first diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Sawyer was tested by experts at Vanderbilt’s Kennedy Center when he was just 20 months old, and they told us he was a “classic, textbook case of autism”. Back then, he was non verbal, flapped his hands when he got excited, and lived “in his own world” most of the time. He barely interacted with people outside of our immediate family, and his stimming (sensory stimulation) was constant. He would make repetitive sounds with his mouth, but wouldn’t say words, and he would gain skills but lose them soon after. He was obsessed with cars and often “played” by moving them along surfaces and watching the wheels move. He was different than any child we had ever encountered. We knew then that our parenting approach for Sawyer would be much different than it had been for the girls, and our lives were going to change drastically. I had no idea what the future held for our beautiful, bright eyed boy, or what life with Sawyer might look like.
We immediately began ABA therapy with Sawyer to help him learn how to live in a world that does not cater to those with autism. His team of therapists and tutors worked extensively with him for the next 2 years, and we were blessed with some of the best. Sawyer quickly began learning to communicate with us using a mixture of sign language and verbal language. When he started school at the age of 4, he could only say about 6 words, and those were hard to understand if you weren’t around him a lot. With the help of his teachers at school, his speech therapist, and his fellow classmates, Sawyer began to thrive.
All of this came with many challenges… we have dealt with many meltdowns, because Sawyer doesn’t always understand how to communicate or express his feelings. He gets overstimulated easily, and can’t always handle large crowds or busy environments. We have left many a family gathering, sporting event, etc. early because Sawyer couldn’t take the sensory stimulation of the environment. We have struggled with self harm, behavioral issues, and more because Sawyer can’t regulate or handle his emotions the way most people can. People don’t always understand, and we have dealt with rude looks, people laughing at him, and his peers excluding him from things because he is different, and they don’t understand why or how to handle it. He doesn’t understand the rules to games or sports, and gets extremely upset when he loses or someone takes a ball from him; we are working on learning to be a good sport and understanding how to play better with others.
Today, Sawyer is much different than I ever imagined. The little boy who couldn’t talk to me until he was 4 years old now has an extensive vocabulary and communicates extremely well. The little boy who used to shy away from anyone outside of our immediate family loves making friends and begs to have a sleepover with friends. The child who used to only play with certain toys to examine their moving parts now has a vivid imagination, and loves playing video games, drawing, and playing pretend with his “plushies”. My son, who once only barely answered to his name and hated to be touched by most people, is now a very loving and caring soul who loves to hug, kiss, and cuddle with those he loves.
This is our autism. Our autism may not look like anyone else’s version of it, but this is our life. Today, for World Autism Day, I wanted to share a glimpse into that life with y’all.