You HAVE Autism, you are NOT Autistic

Trying to explain to my kids why we go to therapists or why we need to get “tested” has never been easy.  When they were younger, they didn’t know any different. Therapists can be fun, and who wouldn’t love getting attention from an adult.  As they got older and more aware, I needed to come up with a way that I felt comfortable talking to my boys about why they are struggling in school, or having difficulty in outside activities.  There is no right or wrong way to tell your kids if they have a diagnosis. It is a personal family decision, and one that some parents choose not tell their kids at all. To each their own, we all do what is best for our kids and family.  

I used to tell my boys that they were like cars.  You could be a race car, a pick up truck, or even a motorcycle.  “All of you take different types of gas, and I am trying to figure out what kind you take”, I would tell them.  Seeing therapists and getting tested was helping us find the right gas. It was a good analogy and one they could understand.  I still use it every once in awhile when they are feeling that their differences are standing in their way. “There is nothing “wrong” with you, you are each unique in your own ways, and have your strengths and weaknesses… there is no such thing as perfect.”

We never told Caden he has Autism.  It wasn’t because I was ashamed, it was very much the opposite.  Having Autism is not easy to explain, hence “The Spectrum.” It is so complex, and I knew it would be difficult for him to understand completely.  April is Autism awareness month. My husband decided one year to put blue lights up around the outside of our house. Wouldn’t you think it was a little weird to have all the lightbulbs outside your house changed to blue?  My kids were little then and didn’t seem to notice since they were in bed by the time the outside lights went on. This is the first time that I started thinking about when and how I would have the “talk” with Caden.

It wasn’t until a year ago that Caden finally learned he has Autism.  We had taken the boys to California Adventure and needed to get a pass for Caden, allowing him to bypass lines (the perks of Autism ;)  … When I got to the counter, Caden overheard me say, “my sons Autistic”. I didn’t know he had heard or that it even registered with him.  The next day, Caden said, “Mom, what is Autism?” It took my breath away. Not because I wasn’t prepared to talk to him about it, but because I knew he had heard me tell the woman he was Autistic, and secondly, that he had been thinking about this for a day.  I asked him, “have you been thinking about this since yesterday? Is it bothering you?” His answer was yes. It was easy for me to sit and have a conversation with him, he was 10 and more able to truly understand what I was telling him. He already knew he was “different”,  I just needed him to realize that DIFFERENT IS AWESOME!

The summer before 5th grade, days before school started, the boys were up skating at the school.  The teachers were all in their classrooms getting ready for the first day. There was a new 5th grade teacher this year.  Caden’s friends dared him to walk over and say hi. Caden doesn’t really get embarrassed, so this was no challenge for him.  He walked right up to her and said, “hi, my name is Caden and I have Autism.” He had never said anything like that before. It didn’t bother me, but I didn’t want him to think that that is who he is.  He has Autism, he is not Autistic. Autism doesn’t define who he is. I told him, “if you had a cold, would you introduce yourself as Caden who has a cold?” A cold is not who he is, it is something he has.  I also didn’t want him to think this was a negative thing, which is what started happening. As school began, if Caden was asked to do something that was a little difficult for him, or did something inappropriate for his age, he would use the excuse that he “has Autism.”

Having Autism is exactly that, something you have, it is not WHO YOU ARE.  Autism doesn’t define you or make you less than anyone else. If anything, it is letting others know that you are a one of a kind kid, and if you are lucky enough, you will be able to experience and see the world through their eyes.  Having Autism can be a handicap if you let it. It can also be something beautiful. Caden is learning to discover who he is and embrace all of his amazingness. He is understanding what Autism is, and how it affects him. He knows that he is a warrior and although he may have obstacles, and things that are easy for others, may be extremely difficult for him, he never lets it stand in his way of living his life.  Being his mom, I have had to learn to let him be who he is, and allow the world to see what I see everyday. I am still learning to not let the word AUTISM control my life. Yes some days are harder than others, but that is part of the journey. I am blessed to have been touched by Autism, it has been a gift and something that has changed my life, not defined it.

AutismAngela Wingard