I would not likely have crossed paths with my autism friends had it not been for autism. As redundant as that statement might seem, it is not without a deeper, more meaningful, significance. We often have completely opposing political views, have children who are at all places on the spectrum, and have lifestyles that are all over the map; some of us live in double-wides, some of us live in double stories and some of us are doubly blessed, financially, and live in luxurious estates. No matter our differences and, no matter our perspectives on the “whys” and “wherefores” of life and autism, we find a common denominator in our children, somehow, and I am incredibly grateful for it. On any lonely night, we are there for each other. We are not there to judge or to question. We find a way to rise above gossip and hatred and find a loving place of friendship and acceptance; this, despite the fact the many of us have nary a connection with one another, other than our profile photos on Facebook or an occasional meeting.
For some of us, our blood-relative families have always been there, from the beginning, in our journeys. For others of us, those relatives could have cared less and, in fact, might even delight in talking behind our backs about our crazy ideas regarding diets, vaccines, doctors and educators. We learn to ignore, forget, forgive and tolerate… and that – PRECISELY – is what bonds us with one another, no matter what our status or walk in life. We know one another’s pain, joy, and sleepless nights. We know one another’s fear of the future, estate planning nightmares, and silent struggles. We read our fellow parents’ stories and, regardless of our own hardships, we think “there but for the grace of God go I.” Autism: the ultimate uniter.
This holiday, I want to give a shout out to my autism community. I love each of you for the fullness of humanity you instill in me. I love you for the gift of humility I feel when you reach out to me in kindness (in spite of your own circumstances), and for the depth of love I feel when I contemplate where I would be, absent your presence in my life over these past 18 years. Parker will be 21 this January. He was not yet three when many of us connected. We had no Facebook. We had limited Internet connection. We called, we talked, we wrote, and we met at conferences. We shared what we could… in an effort to help one another. We put aside petty and insignificant differences, in order to hold hands, figuratively, in a greater cause. I think we have lost sight of just how special that was… and is… and we should not, for one moment, ever take that for granted. We are each other’s family and we are often still each other’s fortress.
Statistics in our community get worse. Services for our children may have inched up… but the struggle and the worry is still ours. For the Brandons and the Michaels and the Parkers and the Roberts and the Liams… we still worry and hope – and we still share. Join me – in thankfulness and love – regardless of your politics, regardless of your religion, and regardless of your personal circumstance, that we will continue to be there for one another. Let us not abandon our joint determination on behalf of our children. Let us not become so strong as individuals that we lose sight of how challenging this is… that we not need funding and help and understanding. Together, I hope we will always seek the greater good that lies beyond our differences and within the community of our autism family. Our other children, our children on the spectrum, and the one in 88 yet to be born, depend on our strength and our collective determination to find answers.