“Autism in a New Light”, by Susan Simmons

I had the fortunate experience of “realizing” an autism episode yesterday just like the ones I’ve been reading about in my educational studies, books, and blogs. It was really quite interesting, as the child’s actions were literally replicated to the ones the experts write about. I knew from the onset of this memorable episode that it was indeed autism.

I was with my cousin and her family in their favorite candy store in Boulder CO, when suddenly a little boy started to profusely scream, thrash, and carry on like there was no tomorrow!

His temper tantrum found him in a position not standing, but pseudo-emotionally stirred like a dancing frantic starfish, barely balancing himself upright with the help of his mother and her friend. It seemed he may have wanted something, but was not allowed to have it or maybe didn’t want something – that part is unclear to me. Or, the candy store just may have been too much stimulation for him.

It may have been the stimulation of too many colors, smells and choices of candy, florescent lights, or the ambient rumble of the crowds. Nevertheless, he was clearly and deliberately unhappy and disturbed. The boy’s mother and friend attempted to escort him out of the store, but his body had taken charge of his relentless insistence.

With belabored effort, they managed to manipulate his thrashing body near the front of the store, but he somehow managed to adhere himself to a fixture just inside the front door like a monkey might have adhered to a tree if his very existence had been threatened. He had literally wrapped his arms and legs around the giant gumball machine that guarded the entrance from any hasty candy resisters.

The shrill shriek of his voice may have shattered the giant ball containing the multi-chromatic balls of gum, had it been made of glass. “I wish I had a picture of this” his mother commented, with a carefree chuckle as they delaminated him from the colorful globe of desire. Mom and friend slowly, but deliberately peeled him off the gumball machine with all their strength and finally managed to maneuver him over to the bench just outside the store. The boy thrashed and screamed for quite some time in his own private frenzy, resisting any attempt to diffuse his tantrum.

The experience was not only educational, but also very moving and emotional for me. I had read about such episodes in Little Rainman, and other books, but I took the experience just a step further. I calmly and lovingly went over to the bench where the family was sitting just outside the candy store with their screaming, thrashing child, and greeted them with a friendly smile as I sat on the bench with them. “I know all about it” and “It’s all okay”.

All the while, between the lines, but written in my eyes, I was saying, “I know what autism is, I understand what you are going through. I understand it, I am not one of those people ‘judging’ you as ‘bad parents’. I know, by our brief  but deep glimpse of each other, your boy is a loving and beautiful child. Your child is accepted in my life and some day I hope to touch your child’s life, directly or indirectly, in a positive way through intervention. I know your parenting is not only adequate, but beyond measure. I advocate for your child and revere your patience, love and understanding.” Never once using the word ‘autism’ or implying that their boy had the affliction, I assured them that it would all be okay, and he world will eventually catch up.

Autism is more prevalent in our society than many of us even realize. It is a growing concern that requires immediate attention, with an open mind and compassionate disposition. One in 110 are currently diagnosed with autism today, previously compared to approximately 1 in 11,000 in 1975.

The reason I share this memorable experience, is to share with others what autism is like and to hopefully foster a sense of acceptance of autism among those who do not live with autism. My hope is to encourage a sense of urgency as well as compassion among our society to learn all we can about autism, inspire advocacy and acceptance, and help make the world a better place, among those with and those who live with autism.

© Susan Simmons, Autism Today, Conference Liaison