As I write this on World Autism Day I am reminded of many things that I've learned, said, and thought over the nine years since Konner's diagnosis. I'm going to share some of them this week. For some this will be like a flashback episode of your favorite sitcom. For others hopefully it will just help you better understand autism.
I feel that on this Autism Awareness Day I should share something that I say often when I'm talking to groups or at trainings. It's nothing that I really came up with on my own. I always tell people I just regurgitate the things that I've learned from my mentors, but I feel it's important and my philosophy if you will.
The Center for Disease Control says that 1 in 68 children in America are diagnosed with autism. That's up from 1 in 88 a couple years ago, 1 in 110 when Konner was diagnosed in 2007, and 1 in 1000 in 1980. That is a 72% increase since 2007, and more than 200% since 1980. More than 1.5 million Americans are affected. According to Autism Speaks, that is more than are affected by diabetes, AIDS, cancer, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy or Down syndrome – combined. These numbers are staggering, but it means that we are very aware of autism. I would bet that everyone reading this knows someone with autism.
It's no longer about awareness; IT'S ABOUT ACCEPTANCE! We have to accept children, adults, and everyone with autism for who they are. We have to love them for their quirks. That's what makes them who they are. We have to help them be who they are, and stop trying to change them into who they are not.
That is something that I share at trainings and speaking engagements because I think it best describes why I do what I do, and my philosophy on advocacy.
I have heard this gen since day one, and I'm reminded each day, as I meet new kids and adults with autism, just how true it is. The famous, "Once you've met one person with autism you've met one person with autism." While they have similar characteristics they are all different, and they are all awesome in their own ways.
"Autism is not the end of the world, just the beginning of a new one." Man, this couldn't be more true for me. Nine years ago I would have never seen myself in the role I'm in now. I was working on being a rock star on the road, but as they say, if you want to hear God laugh tell him your plans. God has shifted my life in a whole other direction, and I can't be happier than doing what I'm doing now. I owe it all to God, Konner, and my wife.
And finally, "Autism is not a tragedy, ignorance is." I feel personally it has gotten better over the years. I don't know if that is because I have learned enough to combat the ignorance in the world, or that people are becoming more aware and accepting, but I do know that it seems more people are on board with the differences in our children. There is still a lot of work to do, but that's pretty cool.