Nigel had been saving up for a new video camera and was finally ready to buy it. Every week he sets aside money so he can buy Amazon gift cards, and then he can order items online that way, since he doesn’t have a debit card (we’re working on that). I brought $250.00 in cash when I picked him up, and we went to the store to get the Amazon card. He picked out the kind that you can choose how much you want on it, and we walked up to the cash register. The cashier looked tired and flustered, and I could feel the impatience vibe emanating from her as Nigel struggled to find the words to complete the transaction.
Most Aprils since 2008 (the year I started blogging) I have written a post about Autism Awareness Month. I’ve taken different approaches – one year I posted a bunch of resources, another year I wrote about an experience I had while I was the local chapter rep for the Autism Society of Oregon. I wrote about the first time we were able to eat in a restaurant without wailing and writhing on the floor. And a few years ago I wrote about awareness in action – in our apartment complex.
This year marks 20 years since autism has been a part of our family’s everyday awareness. There have been years when we wore T-shirts and put bumper stickers and magnets on our car. There was the year that I bought a blue lightbulb to put in my front porch light for the month of April. (I’m sure all that accomplished was the neighbors thinking I was being artsy – why would they make the leap that a blue light symbolizes autism awareness? I certainly didn’t have time to explain it to everyone who drove by.) And there were the years long before we had heard of Autism Awareness Month and did nothing to promote awareness other than going into sensory overload at the grocery store, or a restaurant, or pretty much anywhere. Back then no one thought of giving him noise-cancelling headphones; if we had, most likely he would have been fearful of them.
These days, it takes a great deal to send him into sensory overload, and if the possibility exists that it might happen, he brings ear plugs with him. I still blog about autism, but not as much. I tend to leave the awareness creating to the media, who have really taken the helm in recent years. Not sure if that’s a good thing or not.
Regardless, I firmly believe the best method of gaining autism awareness is knowing someone who has autism. And in the last several years, there’s been a much greater chance for that to occur. Knowing an autistic person, or knowing of one, used to be a six-degrees-of-separation thing, but it’s now probably no more than two degrees. Your grandson. Your coworker’s sister. Your neighbor. A guy in the checkout line at the grocery store. You don’t have to know it’s autism. All you have to know is when and how to be patient. The awareness will come.
“How much on the card?” she demanded after a few seconds, exasperated. In his halting voice Nigel managed to stammer the amount. She would never know how difficult that was for him (being rushed through a verbal exchange). I gently, quietly prompted, “Go ahead and hand her the money now.” And then the vibe changed. The awareness kicked in. Her voice – her whole demeanor – transformed. For the rest of the transaction she was patient without being patronizing. She thanked him and wished him a good day. Maybe even smiled. Score one for autism awareness.