Friday, April 15, 2011

It's Autism Awareness Month.

April is Autism awareness month. It's a time to educate others about Autism Spectrum Disorders, and to celebrate the blessing that our children with an ASD are. At Roo's school they celebrated with Blue Day, where they dressed in blue, ate blue foods, made blue crafts and generally celebrated being autistic.

Some might find that last statement confronting. It seems to be an oxymoron. How can one celebrate having autism? Isn't autism a tragedy that would be best mourned rather than embraced? Autism as most know it today, can be celebrated. Our children have access to wonderful services which can greatly enhance their lives and those of their families. Certainly there is a time for mourning once a diagnosis of ASD is received, but after that it's time to focus on the positives. There are still many, many times when I look at Roo and feel a stab of disappointment that he isn't able to do the exact same things as other children his age. But increasingly those moments are becoming rare. He fills our lives with so much joy, laughter and opportunities for growth. Only a few short years ago I wondered if he would ever talk, now can chatter away with the best of them!

Autism is still a largely misunderstood diagnosis. If you asked people what ASD is, most would describe a child or adult who is non verbal, cannot make eye contact and has an intellectual disability. This is a totally inaccurate picture of ASD. Autism is a spectrum which has a great range of skills and abilities. To assume that people with autism are largely incapable of emotion, communication and generally living an independent fulfilling lives, is to see only a very narrow group of people who live with autism.

We have one son with Aspergers, and one with PDD-NOS (atypical autism) which essentially means that to most people who briefly meet our boys, they seem as *normal* as the next person. Spend a little more time with them and you would notice subtle differences. We see these differences as just that, differences not disabilities. Yes, those differences can present challenges, but they also have skills which the rest of us can only envy! Koala, who has Aspergers has a wonderful memory. This gives him a real advantage over his brother when it comes to studying! Many children with Autism will not lie, and they have a very clear sense of right and wrong, despite what others around them are doing.

If there is one thing I would wish for people to understand about Autism is that it is not a byword for stupid. On several occasions people have started to talk to Roo as if he were unable to understand much of anything. On two occasions people have held two fingers in front of my son and asked him how many, in a very condescending voice. This was at a time when he can count to 100!

So this April take a little time to learn about autism. If you can get hold of it, watch the movie about Temple Grandin, take a look at Tony Attwood's website, or even just smile, or offer a prayer for the next person you see in a supermarket whose child appears to be having a tantrum, because it could be that the child is having a sensory meltdown, NOT that he just needs stronger discipline.

No doubt there are several people within your circle who have an ASD. A little more understanding will go a long way to make those with autism and their families feel more comfortable and understood.

Homeschool Family Retreat.

A few hours ago we returned from our fourth visit to Fitzroy Falls for the Catholic Homeschool Retreat. Once again it was a wonderful week with daily Mass, confession, rosary, spiritual talks for adults and children, time for making friends, sports, and no cooking!

Below is a photo of the rosary procession with Bishop Porteous (who visited on Tuesday) carrying the Body of Our Lord.

Without fail I return from camp feeling spiritually refreshed and uplifted. One of the highlights for me are the spiritual talks for the parents, which are given by clergy while the children have their own spiritual sessions. It is a wonderful blessing to have such holy priests to encourage and teach us. This year we were blessed to have two such priests. Pictured below with Bilby is Fr. Joseph Mary.

In previous years Roo has not come to camp with us, but this year we thought he was ready. I was a little apprehensive about bringing him along. I was sure that he would be fine, but at another camp a few years Roo stationed himself in the laundry watching the tumble dryer go round and round. Unfortunately we noticed that he regressed a little once we returned home, so naturally I was a little worried. To help Roo, I took along some visuals and a schedule strip to place them upon so that he could see how the day would progress. I took along some stickers for good behaviour. Once he had collected five stickers, Roo received a chocolate which proved to be a great motivator. All this worked a treat as, Roo, had a fantastic time which was such a relief. He is certainly growing up, and fitting in beautifully with the other children.

The highlight for Roo was the mini athletics carnival. He loved the races, long jump, javelin and so forth. He even came home with the 5-6 years age championship and several other certificates!

So now it's back to the reality of family life with it's daily challenges, blessings and mundane routines. I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to take time out with Our Lord to reflect, learn, and refuel. I am sure that the insights I have gained will serve myself and my family well in the months to come.