A few weeks ago I posted a blog about my oldest son, Tucker, and his experiences in a high school hockey tournament and about how through perseverance, commitment and hard work he achieved success and assisted his team in winning a tournament semi-final game.
I also quoted various statements by Dr. Alan Zimmerman that appeared in his weekly newsletter entitled "Tuesday Tip" on success. Dr. Zimmerman commented that one must observe four key elements in order to achieve success which are to "toil awhile; to endure awhile; to believe always and to never turn back".
April is Autism Awareness Month. I have three sons, all of whom are special, unique and from my prejudice view, great kids. One of my sons, a 14 year-old twin, Casey, is autistic. As I reflected further on my blog about my oldest son's hard work and achievement of success on the ice, I began thinking about challenges that individuals who are autistic, like my son Casey, face minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour and day-by-day. The significant factor that makes autism so difficult to deal with is that it is a spectrum disorder that is not the same for any two individuals. There are varying degrees of autism and how it manifests itself in people.
Children with autism may act in some unusual ways. Some may have difficulties with certain activities, but they may have strengths in other areas. For instance, a child with autism may be a math wiz, a great artist or unbeatable at computer games. Still, they may have trouble putting their thoughts into words or understanding what you say.
Some children with autism prefer that schedules stay the same or that people always sit in the same seats and they have a difficult time when things change. Changes may be scary for them, so they may try telling others what to do or where to sit. When schedules change and they do not know what is coming next, they are very upset, sad or angry.
Some children with autism do not see, hear, or feel things the same way we do. For instance, the sound of a school bell or the noise of a parade may hurt their ears. Some may have trouble eating certain foods because of the way they taste. Others may be very sensitive to certain smells. Smells we like, such as cookies baking, may make them feel sick. On the other hand, things that bother most of us, like a bee sting, may not appear to be as painful to them.
No one knows why some people have autism, and there may be many difference causes. Scientists are still trying to find out just what those causes are and how to best help people with autism. Approximately 1,500,000 people in the United States have autism, and it is more common in boys then girls.
In my previous blog I reflected on my son, Tucker's experience in his hockey game, stating "it occurred to me that his path to success in that situation mirrors how we, as adults, should pursue success". Being the parent of an autistic child, I have been blessed to witness Casey's hard work, dedication and perseverance to be successful. On occasion, I have the good fortune of either driving my son Casey to his junior high school or picking him up after school. Even though he struggles mightily to keep the world around him in order in his own mind to be able to function and make his way through the day, he always cheerfully exits the vehicle, instructs me to have a great day, throws his backpack over his shoulder and marches into his school together with approximately 800 other junior high students. Given Casey's challenges, I can't begin to understand the courage it must take for him to make it through each and every day.
Casey is "successful". The measure of each person's success is relative to the courage and hard work that gets them through their problems. Often times children with autism are referred to as "special needs children". In our family, we don't think of Casey as having "special needs", we think that Casey has special gifts that we as a family learn from and are inspired by each day.
While we hope and pray for medical and other related advancements to identify autisms cause and a cure, let's not forget to celebrate the inspiration these individuals can provide to us in our every day lives.
Dan A. Penning (aka proud father)