Saturday, December 10, 2011


With the holiday season in full swing, I want to ask if you'll keep your heart open to the other one percent of us out there, the autism community. Like you, we will be out-and-about during this busy time of the year.  It is my hope that when you see us, you keep your comments, suggestions, and criticisms to yourself. 

How will you know me?

I am the boy with hair so long I look like a girl. Sensory issues make haircuts painful for me and my Mom is willing to pick her battles.  Hair is not one of them. 

I am the little girl in a spring cotton dress when I need to be wearing winter clothing, but I cannot stand winter clothing.  Trust me, Mom makes me wear a coat outside, so don’t remind her that my dress is wrong. She knows.

If I am verbal, I might speak in a monotone voice and repeat lines from my favorite movie or TV show.  If I cannot speak, I might look past you, or reach up and touch your mouth as I try to understand why mine will not work like yours. I mean you no harm, I am trying to understand my world and how to make it work. I might stim, pacing back-and-forth, back-and-forth. 

If I am on the higher end of the spectrum, I might amaze you with my knowledge of the calendar and presidents, yet I cannot answer you when you ask me what I want for Christmas.   You know what?  I don't want anything.  I want to be with those who love me, have a calm and predictable day, and see my mom and sisters happy and calm.  (I will, however, enjoy the m&m's in the Christmas stocking my grandma knot for me right after I was born, and a present or tow if they include a bear.  Don't tell my mom, but I'd also really like noise deafening head-phones, too.)

I might spin in circles,  flap my hands and/or jump up and down. I might carry a stuffed bear that I should have outgrown years ago.   I might need to count all the ceiling tiles in the restaurant before I can sit at the table. I may need to touch the glass window over and over and over. Please don’t tell me to stop, I really wish I could. I might talk too loud and say all the wrong things to the waitress taking our order. I might burst into tears when my plate comes because the French fries are too fat, or they are already touching ketch-up or another food item. I'll have a melt down; I'd wish I knew why it mattered too.

When my Mom takes me to see Santa in the Mall, I might rush past you.  Standing in line is very, very hard for me to understand or do. Please don’t tell my Mom how rude I am, she is dealing with enough trying to keep up with me and simultaneously enjoy my siblings sitting on Santa’s lap and talking to him.  If I have a melt down because I saw a camera flash, let it go. Keep your advice to yourself. If I am taller than my Mom and still want to see Santa, please understand that I am just now for the first time in my life able to enjoy Christmas and Mom is excited to finally see her "baby"enjoy this holiday.  When I was 3 and 4, I was unable to go into public places or even understand Santa. Now I can enjoy him and my Mom has earned the right to see me give him a high-five.  I have earned the right to shake his hand and give him a high five.

I get very excited over Hanukkah, and want to be included. I might be over stimulated by the candle flame when you light the menorah and try to touch it or blow it out. I might cover my ears thinking it is going to blow up like the fire crackers did last 4th of July. Please don’t scold me for hiding under the dining room table and trying to pull your beautiful blue table cloth off as I duck under. If I snatch every chocolate gold covered coin off the table, I am sorry.  I like to collect shiny things. Yes, Mom does think it is a shame I can’t keep my yarmulke on my head; and no, she can’t just force me to wear it.

Please understand that light and sound, touch, even hot and cold can confuse or upset me. I react to these events in different ways. I may withdraw even more. I may have a meltdown. I might stim to comfort myself. I might hurt myself or turn on my Mom and use her like a punching bag. I will never learn how to understand the world if I am not allowed to venture into it. Each new event takes time, patience, understanding and lots and lots of hard work on my part and that of my parents, and therapist. I am trying, they are trying, please give me a chance without judging me.

I am the other one percent. I am your next door neighbor’s child. I am your cousin’s child.  I am a classmate of your child’s.  I am a member of your community.  I have autism. I am not disabled; I am differently-abled.  

I am not a tragedy, I am a person. Not understanding the difference is a tragedy.  Just think how you would want to be treated, if you were a part of the other one percent.