Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The "Look" of Autism

"He doesn't look autistic."
"She looks so pretty, are you sure?!"
"But he's cute."
"Did you get a second opinion? Because he looks so normal."

A picture is worth a thousand words, or so some say.

Beautiful children. 

Can you see how hard someone has worked to be able to say "hi" or say their name? Or write a name? Or conquer anxiety? Can you tell who has difficulty with language or who scripts all day long? Which ones are toe walkers, jumpers, bolters, wanderers? Which people have participated in ABA, OT, ST, hippotherapy, or water therapy?

By looking at pictures, are you able to pick out which kids are in inclusion classes, self contained, or a combination?

You can't tell. You cannot tell by just glancing at a picture of someone that they are on the autism spectrum, or where on the spectrum they are, can you?

There is no single "look" to autism.

Autism is different walks of life, different religions, different races, different ethnicities, and different genders.

Autism might be verbal, non verbal, tall, short, curly or straight haired. Someone who is autistic may or may not flap their hands, need chewies, fidgets, or a gait belt.  Autism might need 1:1 support in school or moderate support. You can't tell by looking.

By glancing at the kids, can you tell who have parents who are politically active, volunteer endlessly at the school, protest at the capitol in favor of better care for the disabled, advocate across our communities for students with IEPs, who's more comfortable behind a computer, or run organizations dedicated to the betterment of families with disabilities? None of us are wallflowers when it comes to fighting for our kids' rights, we all just do it differently. Autism, for the children featured here, looks like very dedicated parents. I am one of them.

With autism acceptance and awareness month upon us, please keep in mind that appearances are deceiving. Never judge a book by the cover. Never think that you know someone's mind or situation because you've been around them for five seconds. Please, don't think it's okay to use a phrase like, "But he/she looks ----." No matter how you phrase it, "normal," "low functioning," "high functioning," it usually feels odd and from my experience, you can't just neurology from looking at someone. Tell us our kid looks cute. Or that our child is sweet. That's usually okay.

Oh, and if our child doesn't "look" autistic... maybe it's that new haircut the kid's sporting. We only bribed the lady with an extra $20 or so.

*Thank you to the parents who allowed me to use their child's image in this post.