My Life as an Autism Parent: What Awareness Means to Our Family
September 10, 2018
September 10, 2018
Guest Post by Kevin Cross
When it comes to autism spectrum disorder (ASD), spreading awareness is incredibly important. Education on the subject has thankfully gotten broader and better over the years. I’ve seen my social media feeds blowing up with posts and tweets from parents, providers and corporations bringing awareness to the reality of individuals living with autism. As parents of a 3-year-old boy with ASD, my wife, Laura, and I have also written or shared these types of posts.
Yet, I believe we are still missing something…that “something” being awareness.
Don’t misunderstand me…this is not a post about the realities of autism, what it’s really like, and how the general public needs to take a step back and truly make ourselves aware of what autism really is (although that needs to be done, too, folks). No, this post is about awareness, in regards to my son, Homer. Not awareness of Homer, but rather, Homer’s awareness.
All individuals with autism are very different. As people in this community say, “If you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism.” This means, of course, that individuals on the autism spectrum have a wide range of abilities and/or challenges.
Although all of these individuals are different, my own little “tour guide” for autism consistently amazes me with his level of awareness and how he notices or identifies things in ways many of us would never notice or understand. It is a scientific fact that the brains of people with autism work differently than ours, but the way this fact manifests itself in Mr. Homer is incredible, and often hilarious.
For instance, Homer loves pizza. Personally, I typically categorize pizza by type, tastiness and cost. Too thin, too crunchy, too expensive, great with BBQ (isn’t all pizza?), right price, perfect crust, delicious sauce, etc.
Homer, on the other hand, categorizes it by color. “Gray pizza” is Backstreet. “Blue Pizza” is Goosepond. “Red tote” (that means red “tomato”) is Monicals. I would have never thought to identify pizza by the color of the building in which it is housed, but Homer does. (Note: Homer’s favorite is Fazoli’s…mainly because of the breadsticks, but who can blame him?! It is the only restaurant he identifies by its name… “Faza’s.”)
Or another example… we got new flooring downstairs over spring break. Vinyl flooring is much easier to clean than carpet, which is important when you have a puker and a moody dog. Furthermore, matchbox cars roll much better on it, which is important to Homer.
We knew this would be a big change for Mr. Homer, and change is not often easy. We planned it all out in advance…Gigi’s one night, Mamaw’s one night. The plan was for him to come home and everything would be back in place, only with a different floor, of course.
We brought him inside after being away from the house for nearly three days. His initial reaction what kind of like “WHOA!” as he wrapped his legs around Laura and stared down at the floor as if it was molten lava. But after about 45 seconds of checking things out, he was okay with it (big win!!).
He then proceeded to walk into the bathroom, and we heard, “Green soap! No blue soap! Green soap! No blue soap!” Say what? Laura had replaced the soap in the bathroom over his absence…and he noticed. Forget the fact that there was over 500 square feet of new flooring, WE CHANGED THE SOAP! The “newness” of the floor lasted 45 seconds, but we discussed the new soap for a week. I never noticed it, but Homer did.
He’s also very aware of his directions, as he should be…that kid logs hundreds of miles a week! Every time we drive towards a different location or direction, he will call out the name of the person or activity he associates with it.
When we go to Terre Haute, we must be going to the “carwash.” If we turn onto 7th, we are going to “school.” If we pass the carwash (after a couple possible tears), we must be going to “Faza’s.” If we pass Fazoli’s, we hear “let’s go see Yiz-bet” (this is Homerese for “Elizabeth,” his speech therapist).
I never paid attention to directions when I was three years old, but Homer does.
We throw away the red air freshener can in the bathroom. The next time he is in, we hear, “bye bye red.”
I accidentally bumped his toy cows, he runs past them, stops in his tracks, notices they are 3.724 inches off, and straightens them.
We have a very small chip in the porcelain of our bathtub. He’s taking a bath, points to it, and says, “Jesus.” Huh? We checked it out, and from his angle, the chip does look like a man with a beard. Definitely a proud mommy and daddy moment on this one!
Another time, were standing with the greeting team at church praying when he bursts out, “green light!” and points to the ceiling. We all look around…no green light. Again, “green light!” I ask him, “Buddy, what do you see?” I look towards where he is pointing, which is straight at the WiFi booster. Sure enough, there is a faint green glow coming from inside it. The entire room may be filled with bright fluorescent lighting, but he sees the “green light!!” that no one else notices.
Or on the way home from Terre Haute, there is a place near Boot City that always has a couple school buses in the driveway. Homer always says, “school bus” when driving past. Laura drove him home one Friday, and he says, “school b-….no school bus. No school bus.” They were apparently gone for a game that evening, but in his mind, they were supposed to be there, and Homer was ready.
Dr. Temple Grandin has often remarked that her cattle handling designs work because she thinks like a cow. Her autism helps her notice things that we as neurotypicals would never see or understand. I believe that she does think like a cow, and that is definitely a gift.
Homer notices all of these little things that I would never notice myself. I don’t know if he thinks like a cow, but Homer’s “awareness,” like the abilities of many people with autism, is special, unique, and something most of us will never have. He notices the little things, and it is the awareness of the little things in our magnificent world that many of us miss. Homer has a different perspective. It is one that is interesting, perplexing, hilarious and always amazing.
There is one verse I think sums this up well: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NIV)
To learn more of Homer’s story, please join us on his journey and follow along with us at Homer’s Odyssey.
– Kevin, Homer’s father.
Photo credit: Kevin and Laura Cross