When I was growing up, my neighbor's grandchildren would come to visit every summer. Their grandson, who was my age, would ask me countless questions about what day and year I was born and what colors shirts I owned. Brett had autism and in the 1980s and even 90s, there was little known about it. There were no organizations promoting acceptance. No TLC specials on it. As far as I knew, he was the only person with it -- at least in my insulated world.
Recalling significant dates in other people's lives was always interesting to him. He also liked to pace back and forth in front of his grandparent's house. He signed my autograph book by writing "a green shirt" and his name.
After his grandparents died, we lost touch with him and his sister. But the impact of knowing him has reached across the decades.
Today, I have a six-year-old son with autism. I know about self-calming habits like pacing; I know how minute details can become so important, so significant that they are recalled whenever or where ever. I know more about the science and mechanics of autism then I ever thought I would know.
But the important stuff, I owe to a man named Brett. By being himself, he taught me a valuable lesson. Its one I appreciate even more today. Like Brett, my son is not defined by autism. That's just a label. My son is a funny, intelligent boy with beautiful blue/green eyes who can't resist a humorous story. He loves chocolate milk and hates thunderstorms. He will draw you a map from his house to yours. He loves reading about the solar system.
His having autism is not a tragedy; a terrible disease to be cured. Yes it means we might need to make accommodations for him. But I am not looking to change him. I am simply here to support him and make life a little easier for him when I can. That's what every Mom does. Its what all people deserve regardless of their strengths or limitations.
So Brett, wherever you are, thank you for a lesson well taught.
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