April is Autism Awareness Month, and all around the world individuals and organisations are using this month to increase the community’s understanding of autism and to raise funds for autism-related services.
I want to use this month to celebrate some of the positive things about being mother to an autistic 12-year-old. I can’t really separate my son Ben’s personality from the fact he’s autistic – I don’t know what he’d be like if he wasn’t autistic – so this is a celebration of some of the characteristics I see in my son and think may be true for other autistic people also.
He has a fantastic memory (like many autistic people). For the last six years, I’ve given up keeping a birthday diary or remembering addresses – I just ask Ben and he always comes up trumps. Ask him the date Mozart was born, the name of the inventor of the microscope, the number of countries in Oceania, the last time we saw his cousins… he’s always reliable.
It’s true, he also has an uncomfortable way of remembering things I’d rather forget. “That was the day you got cross and threw your computer mouse out the window,” he might say to me in front of our neighbours.
He’s very precise about things (another common autistic trait).
If I say he can have two Easter eggs each day, he’ll eat two and only two, no matter how many sit on the kitchen bench. When I tell him we’ll be leaving for school in five minutes, he’s ready by the door in exactly four-and-a-half minutes.
In all our years of school attendance, I think we’ve only been late twice. Of course, this can cause slight social problems: Ben finds it difficult to understand why other people don’t arrive on the dot to every appointment. He accepts that happens but in his heart of hearts I can see he struggles to comprehend it.
Like many autistic people, Ben loves routine and certainty. This means I can get away with cooking a small range of meals for him. He was even happy to eat brown rice and cabbage for three nights in a row, though he did actually ask for grated cheese as an extra on the final night! (I know, I know, hardly a balanced diet but it was a busy week.)
I have to admit the desire for routine and repetition also drives me a little crazy at times (how often do you need to hear the depth of every swimming pool across Perth?) but he must find the uncertainty and spontaneity of life equally challenging.
I love the way Ben will be happy over small things like going for a walk to the park, having breakfast at a beach-side cafe, getting a small compliment from a friend, mastering something new.
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