I hear this a lot:
“He doesn’t look autistic!”
“You would never even know he has autism by looking at him.”
If you’re reading this and you think you might have said this to me at some point, DON’T WORRY. The first few times I heard it, it caught me off guard. I wanted to say, “Oh. Um. What does autism look like?”
But, I’ve grown accustomed to it. A lot of times, people say it when they see him being affectionate or social. If there is one thing I have learned over the last 18 months, it’s that the general population seems to think kids with autism don’t like to be touched…EVER. And the general population thinks that autistic kids have no ability to be social…EVER. They think of Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man.
So, I believe, when they see an autistic child who isn’t counting toothpicks and rocking back and forth, or they see an autistic kid cuddling with his mom or socializing with his friends, he doesn’t look autistic to them.
In other words, I guess, he looks normal.
I think this is why my son, and countless other children with autism, will struggle to “fit in” as they get older. Sure, they might look normal. But they have challenges. They have quirks. They learn differently. They have trouble communicating. People might view them as a “behavior problem.” Autism is SO MANY THINGS. I don’t see it…I hear it, I observe it, I learn from it, I am baffled by it, I am enthralled by it, I cry over it, I laugh over it, I lose sleep over it, I get frustrated with it.
A few weeks ago, rapper 50 Cent was under fire from the autism community (don’t MESS with autism parents!) for a couple of extremely insensitive tweets. “Yeah, I saw your picture fool you look autistic,” followed by “I don’t want no special ed kids on my timeline follow some body else.”
I usually don’t really give a shit what celebrities say or think, but I will be honest: as the mom of an autistic child, that definitely hurt.
If there’s one thing I worry about, one thing I lose sleep over, it’s the thought of my son being ridiculed for who he is. I don’t want him to be made fun of for his autism. I don’t want people to think it’s funny to make the “special ed kids” the outcasts.
Immediately following the 50 Cent story, autism parents came back at him full force. Holly Robinson Peete wrote a letter to him that was a wonderful representation of how autism parents everywhere were feeling:
Do you even know what autism is? And what exactly does “autistic” look like? Do you know how wildly prevalent autism is? 1 in 88 have it. That’s 1 in 54 boys. Families suffer a social stigma you will never know. It is a financial and emotional drain for millions…
And then, she referred to her own 13 year-old son, who has autism:
He is in special ed. He loves rap music and is a HUGE fan of yours. He’s a tremendous kid. He has to deal with so much trying to fit in. This isn’t helping.
Thank you, Holly Robinson Peete. This letter made me want to find you and give you a hug.
And…I can’t believe I’m saying this, but…50 Cent, you really made me THINK.
You made me think about all the times people have said, “REALLY?? He doesn’t look autistic!” about Easton. You made me think about every time someone has said, “You would never even know he has autism by looking at him.”
What they’re trying to say (and I think they mean well) is: “He looks so…normal.”
Every child is different. Every child WITH AUTISM is different from the next. There are literally no two autistic children with the exact same symptoms, quirks, and characteristics.
My son Easton has autism. It doesn’t define him, but it is a HUGE part of who he is as a person. Easton is so many things. We can’t look at any one child and see autism, because autism is SO MANY THINGS.
Autism might look like this:
Or, maybe it looks like this:
Autism may look different from the other kids, like this:
But…did you know autism can look like this?
If you’ve ever been around autism, it may have looked like this:
What people don’t realize is that autism can also be very peaceful:
There may be some hand-flapping, like this:
Something really cool? Autism can stop to enjoy the little things, like this:
I have learned recently that autism can be quite mischievous:
Sometimes, autism really likes things that are visually appealing:
Autism can definitely become obsessed with something:
In my house, this is one constant thing autism is fascinated by:
There is no doubt about it – autism sees the world differently than you and I:
And…most of all, I have found autism to have a strength I didn’t realize was possible: