Last Sunday we went to the Imagine Walk for Autism. We told Casey beforehand that this was a day that celebrated autism, and that raised money for programs for people in the area who have autism. Of course, Casey immediately assumed that the day was FOR him.
And we didn’t tell him otherwise.
When we got there, the picture above is how the day went. He had to stow his Chewbacca Angry Bird in his shirt so he could walk around with arms in the air, yelling, “I HAVE AUTISM!” He stopped random people as we walked by and said, “Hi, I’m the guy with autism!” and then hugged them. I may have cried a little. Other people may have cried. It was truly joyful.
Casey knows he’s different. He started picking up on it a couple of years ago. It was hard for me. I didn’t want him to be different, and I definitely did not want him to know that he was. I wrote about it here. That post was a turning point for me. I was wrong. He is different. If I couldn’t model acceptance and even how to EMBRACE autism for Casey, how would he ever accept himself? If his own mother hated the autism which made him who he is…how would he ever learn to love that part of him? Fortunately, I had wonderful friends who I met through this blog- some even through that post- that have walked me through this process. They gently guided me, never judging me, to a place of true acceptance and peace with Casey’s autism. To see what autism GIVES him, and not just what I felt it took.
When Abby was born, I really wanted to feel like she wasn’t different, I still wasn’t to the point of acceptance and understanding with Casey, so I lived in denial for a time with Abby, too. For that time, it didn’t seem like she was all that different from my other babies. She turns three next month, and that feeling has largely passed. She is different. Everything is different with her. The way she walks, the way she talks, the way she learns, the way she fights, the way she lives.
Eventually, Abby will know she’s not the same as everyone else. People will see her Down syndrome before they see HER, and acknowledging that isn’t wrong, or sad, or anything. It’s just the truth. Being different isn’t wrong. Being different doesn’t mean she’s less. And, in a world where we are all fighting for our own sense of individuality, being different is GOOD. I just hope that she’ll accept herself and meet these people with the same enthusiasm about who she is as Casey did at the Imagine Walk. I can’t wait to see her, hands in the air, yelling “I have Down syndrome!”
Saying our children aren’t different doesn’t make them any less different. And denying them the opportunity to embrace it, to own it, doesn’t do them any good either. We don’t need to tell the world that our kids aren’t different. We need to tell the world that differences are good.
In the immortal words of Dr. Suess: Why fit in, when you were born to stand out?