"Your son has autism," the doctor announced. I was at once relieved and concerned. He was nearly five years old and back then there didn't seem to be much hope for a positive future. When my son was diagnosed there were very few resources written for parents. I read everything I could get my hands on, from the occasional parent-written book to professional books and journals. I learned all I could and became my child's advocate for an appropriate educational program. The more a parent knows about autism, the more able they are to help their own as well as other children. Eventually, I would be asked to testify on behalf of special needs concerns before a TennCare committee and then to our legislative representatives on the educational needs of our children.
Through the years I learned that while autism can be a challenge, it also provides an opportunity to build on a child's strengths. My son enjoyed working outdoors and he liked to deliver meals on wheels and took great pride in cleaning. We planned an occupational program for him that continued through his adult day program.
Among other young people with autism that I've come to know are an artist, a singer, a musician, a math genius, a baker, an author and a school helper. Each person is living a full and meaningful life. Having a positive outlook on what is possible can be most helpful in being able to cope and there are national, regional and community organizations that can help. Organizations like The Autism Society of America, Autism Speaks and The Middle Tennessee Autism Society. These organizations are beacons of hope that provide emotional support, sponsor special events and advocate for the needs of children and adults with autism.
The nearly 600 traditional and electronic books available through Nashville Public Library can be helpful in learning about autism in its many forms as well as the personal experiences of parents, caregivers, teachers and young people who have autism. Resources written for children include fiction as well as non-fiction.
Whether you know someone with autism or not, it is worthwhile to learn to appreciate neuro-diversity as a step towards making a difference in the lives of all who are or who love someone with autism. At the end of a community family event my daughter, who was seven years old, said, "Mama, we sure are lucky, most people don't have a kid with autism but we do." May we all learn how lucky we are to know and appreciate someone with autism. The following list includes resources I wish were available when I first learned of my son's diagnosis.