Monday, April 6, 2015

A Boy Grows a Lot in Ten Years…So Does His Father

The mighty, giant Sequoia tree can grow to fifty feet, nearly half its mature height, in ten years. The light from our sun travels an unimaginable 58,656,960,000,000 miles in ten years. A child develops from an unborn, unknown anticipation to a giggling, lovable little boy. And a man can go from thinking he knew what life was all about and had it all figured out, to a mature, devoted father who can think of no other greatness than to be his little boy’s loving, protecting daddy and best friend.

My Mikey is ten years old today. Typing that makes my hands shake. My little boy is ten. It seems like I can’t remember a time when Mikey wasn’t in my life. I don’t even remember what a day was like a decade ago without him. And I can’t imagine a day without seeing him smile.

As much as Mikey has grown in these ten years, he has helped me grow, too. When faced with having a child, many people say they’re scared and don't know if they're ready...I guess I may have felt that way, too. When a child is born you can either learn and adapt to being everything they need, or you can stay immature and clueless and see the horrible impact on your child. I chose to adapt and learn and, because of Mikey's special needs, I had to truly have a trial by fire. Mikey has made me a better man, by far. My gratitude to him is something I can only express in my everyday actions.

Sadly, something else that has grown in the last ten years has been the rate of autism. When Mikey was born the rate was 1 in 166 children. Today it is 1 in 68 and 1 in 44 boys. My past ten years of life with Mikey has also been a life with autism. I think if Mikey were typical my growth may have been slower, as I said, autism has a way of forcing you to get your act together.

As I celebrate Mikey's tenth birthday, I also look forward to the next ten years. What will they hold for Mikey and me and his mother. What will they hold for autism? I can direct Mikey's ten years by being a good daddy. And I can influence autism in my own way by being an advocate. In both ways, I expect--and will settle for nothing less--than positive, life-changing results.

And so I close by wishing my little buddy the bestest, coolest, Chuck E. Cheesiest birthday ever. I love you, Mikey!
-- Daddy

Friday, April 3, 2015

Buttons, ‘Bands & Blogs: 3 B’s for the 3 A’s of Autism (Awareness, Action & Acceptance)

When I was a young, rebellious lad in the ‘80s, I used to wear pin buttons on my denim jacket. There was the obligatory “PEACE” sign, one that said “Carpe Diem,” and one with Opus from the “Bloom County” comic strip, among others. I never wore a button I didn’t believe in, but I never felt a must-wear commitment to them.

Flash forward now some thirty years and you’ll find me wearing buttons again…but this time with a dedicated, unrelenting purpose: Autism awareness, action, and acceptance for my son, Mikey, and the thousands of other children and adults like him on the autism spectrum. The autism-related buttons I wear now are on my shirt, hat, or coat every single day…because autism is a daily factor in our lives and not something that is in focus for merely a month or a worldwide day. If I get one person to notice these buttons and stop to think about autism (or even better, want to get more involved) then I have widened our audience to the cause that much more.

Along with my buttons, I also wear several wristbands on a daily basis. There’s the “I Love Someone with Autism” wristband, the now-faded wristband for Mikey’s soccer/t-ball team for children with autism, the wristband for the local developmental school that Mikey attended and, of course, one for the Autism Society. I consider these wristbands, along with the buttons, to be part of my uniform as an autism advocate…call them my armor in the battle for the three A’s of autism.

Third in my autism trifecta are blogs. I’ve written all sorts of things throughout my life. I’ve been published in various ways and have seen my name in print a number of times. But none of those match up to when my heart takes over the writing and I create something about Mikey or about autism that really touches people. If I can’t move you with my actions, then I will surely try my best to move you with my words. If I could only write one more thing ever, I’d want it to be a blog that informed and inspired a multitude of people to learn about autism, accept our autistic children and adults for who they are, and caused them to help the autistic community in any way they needed.

As I think about it, I suppose I could add a fourth B for benefits. Throughout the year, and particularly in April, my wife and I attend or participate in autism-related dinners, walks, and other events. I’ve had the opportunity to give a keynote speech at a local autism charity’s fundraiser dinner, I’ve fundraised for several autism-awareness walks, and my wife and I attend other related events as often as possible. This is perhaps my favorite way to spread the word about autism because there are often like-minded individuals who are motivated by their love of a family member or friend who is on the spectrum.

My inspiration for these efforts is three-fold: Help Mikey and others like him in all ways possible; create autism awareness, acceptance, and action wherever and whenever possible; and, in the only admittedly selfish motivation, to overcome the helpless feeling that often overcomes me as an autism parent. For those moments that I look at Mikey and feel like I don’t have an answer, well, using the pay-it-forward concept, if my three B’s open the eyes to a curious stranger or assist another autism parent in some way, maybe someday they’ll return the favor and open my eyes to a solution I’m not seeing.

With the ever-increasing rate of autism diagnoses, the number of us touched in some way by autism is growing larger every year. To achieve the three A’s of autism, we need to spread our message in every way we can. My way is the three B’s. Perhaps yours are three D’s (donations, doctors, devotion), two T’s (teaching and therapy), or an F (fundraising). Whatever we call it, however we do it, this alphabet of letters will always spell LOVE.