Today is World Autism Awareness Day and being observed around the world, with buildings as famous as the Eiffel Tower lit up blue to bring attention to this issue.
My son Connor is now 21. He was diagnosed at age 4 with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Non-Specified (PDD-NOS). A terrifying mouthful for the young mother I was. What would become of him? How could I be strong enough to help him? The psychologist delivering the news said he would never read, never write, never finish school, never leave home, never have a job. I felt I was gasping for air as he kept saying the word “never”. On days when I feel charitable, I like to think that he was trying to manage expectations regarding what we could hope for this child. Most others, I just think he was a cruel asshole.
Connor did learn to read – at a glacially slow rate – at age 11. I have hardly ever been so excited in my life. He learned how to scrawl, and then write. He had an amazing teacher (Corinne Toews) for 3 or 4 consecutive years, who pushed him to realize his potential. She is a gifted human and our family owes her so much. He went to socialization groups at the Autism Resource Centre, and worked one-on-one with family support workers who taught him new skills. His older brother Max played endless pretend dinosaur games with him and then video games, and patiently (well, most of the time) would answer “right” to Connor’s incessant need for validation about everything he was saying: “Right, Max?” “Right, Max?”
He finished school (yes, with adaptations) at 18. He has a full-time job at Sarcan, a bottle and can recycling depot, here in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. He is enrolled in a program at the Autism Resource Centre to learn independent living skills – like setting a budget, and cleaning an apartment, and cooking. One day, he will live independently – whether that’s with others or on his own is hard to say yet.
These days we don’t think about “never”. We think about how Connor takes two city buses to work each way. How he reloads his monthly bus pass without being asked. How he goes to a movie by himself. I am filled with pride and joy and love – every bit as much as I feel for his “typical” brother Max, who is attending university. In fact, now that they are aged 21 and 22, I worry more about Max than Connor!
Awareness is crucially important, because it needs to be in place before people can be moved to action. Workplaces that are inclusive are vital if we are to help as many people with disabilities (not just autism) lead meaningful lives where they contribute to society and feel good about themselves.
Those distant days where I felt so blue are gone, and now it’s one of my favourite colours.
Happy World Autism Awareness Day. Light it up blue!