Autistic individuals deserve love, respect |

Autistic individuals deserve love, respect

If you don’t know someone with autism, you will soon.

April is Autism Awareness Month. Due to a substantial increase in diagnosis, autism has had a lot of media coverage as of late. Perhaps you’ve watched a program or read an article about it. What is autism? It is a neurological disorder affecting the typical development of the brain and is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the nation. Each day, 50 children receive the diagnosis. That’s why, “If you don’t know someone with autism, you will soon.”

The manifestations of autism vary greatly, with individuals referred to as being on the “autistic spectrum.” Some individuals exhibit only slight delays in language and experience challenges with social interactions. Those more severely affected may be limited in verbal expression, experience physical challenges and/or have difficulty with sensory overloads presented by the rigors of our everyday world. Obsessive-compulsive disorder and the need for almost ritualistic routines are common.

A common misconception is that autistic individuals do not make eye contact, show affection, smile or laugh, or show a variety of other emotions. It is the challenge of expressing their emotions and intellect that leads to these misperceptions. Through increased awareness, we can learn to appreciate their individuality and nurture their many virtues.

Autistic people usually think quite differently from individuals who are “neurotypical” (a slang word developed by highly functioning autistics). Autistics need and deserve our respect and understanding, as does everyone in this world. It is extremely difficult for them to be deceitful or lie, thus making them vulnerable to those who prey upon innocence. They need to be surrounded by compassionate and understanding people who can protect and watch out for them.

There are many interventions and therapies that facilitate autistic individuals learning to function in a” typical” world. Through ever increasing awareness, many children are being diagnosed at an early age when intervention and treatment strategies are most effective.

Autism became a daily partner for my family when my son, Ian, was diagnosed five years ago. We have traveled many roads in learning about autism, accepting the realities of raising an autistic child, and ultimately embracing the wonders of a unique and special child.

We started intervention upon diagnosis, and it has become a way of life, 24/7. We have seen tremendous growth and progress. There is constant vigilance in trying to understand and support the many behavioral challenges, along with an inherent stress in strategizing how best to support his development. As it is hard for people with autism to explain how they’re feeling, especially when things aren’t as they need to be, we are often left feeling helpless and guessing what to do. It isn’t easy.

Ian has an obsessive fascination with ceiling fans. We frequent a number of stores in the area just to see the fans. In doing so, we have learned that there are many wonderful people who are understanding and supportive. It is very comforting to us to receive an understanding smile from the person behind the counter. Ian is unwittingly an ambassador for autism awareness and he is being welcomed on his terms.

The struggles all individuals on the spectrum have to go through just to participate in this world humble me greatly. To an autistic person, the realities of daily life present a constant challenge, although not an insurmountable one. In our son we see extraordinary courage in his willingness to get up each day and take it on with determination and pride. He is a trooper who inspires us to do our part.

Our family has grown in so many rewarding ways by having this special little boy in our lives. His older brother is wise beyond his years. He is loved beyond measure. There are many wonderful people who are dedicated to helping not just our son, but also the autistic community. Autism is increasingly becoming a part of all of our lives and awareness is an important first step. People with autism are hard to get to know, but its well worth the effort to do so.

There is an autism support group in our community for parents, teachers, caregivers and anyone who is interested, that meets once a month at the county’s Superintendent’s office at the intersection of Ridge Road and Nevada City Highway. The next meeting will be on Thursday, April 28, at 6:30 p.m. For more information about autism, visit the Autism Society of America’s Web site, or Families for Early Autism Treatment (FEAT) at


Amy Butler is a resident of Nevada City. She and her husband Jim have two wonderful sons, one of whom happens to have autism.

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