Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Autism Awareness Month (Part II)

Walking The Walk...

I am no different from other people, and my life had always had its perks and challenges. But I truly enjoyed the perks I actually earned and never asked for a magic wand to overcome the challenges… until four years ago. But the magic wand is a creation of fairytales, and I had no choice but to turn to recources within…

I was broken hearted and powerless. The wellbeing of my three-year-old boy depended on me, but I had no tools. I could not comprehend what autism really was, this disease made no sense. There was no pill that could make everything go back to normal again. I read books and articles until I could not process their words any more. I googled the topic until the same pages would come up over and over again. I sought people who walked the walk that was ahead of me asking them for advice. I lived and breathed the world of autism.

So what is it and where it comes from, you ask? No one knows, really.  I read that autism affects the development of a person’s communication and social interaction skills. Some researchers say that people with autism have a delayed mirror neuron system. This is a brain circuit that enables us to better understand, anticipate and copy the actions of others.

Wait… as I read this, I suddenly realized why everyone says that early intervention is so important. Maybe it is because young age is the time when a human actually learns how to live and operate in life by mirroring it. And, if a person’s ability to mirror life is delayed, then we have to start artificially teaching this little human everything about our life, so they can gain tools to know how to live in this world. We all hear that people with autism have this incredible memory ability. And how could they not, they have to memorize everything that others simply mirror!

But how can we teach someone everything about life?
…People say it takes a village to raise a child, and they could not be more right… Varuzh and I could never do it on our own! And we are eternally grateful to everyone we met as we walked the walk! 

Day in and day out, Alex’s therapists and behavioral specialists would work with him and us, explaining how his mind works and equipping us with tools of parenting a child who thinks… differently. Most of the therapists were in their mid twenties if not younger, and Varuzh and I were admiring them and listening to their advice diligently, learning how to teach Alex all the necessary skills of independence - how to dress, or brush teeth, or wash hands, or how to stop his body from wiggling due to sensitivity, or how to respond to his name, or how to look people in the eye, or how to react in different life situations… But, the most valuable lesson Varuzh and I got from Alex’s therapists was to learn to be patient and compassionate. We learned to work for months on a simple little skill such as swallowing a spoonful of blended soup, and learning to celebrate every achievement. No achievement was little!

“Sun is off,” Alex said as we were gazing at stars during an August summer night.
I smiled. Alex’s ability to speak has returned within about a half a year after we started working with him, and since then, he has been treating us with his funny statements that probably are results of thinking in pictures...

“Look at me, Alex.” I said hoping that he would turn in response to his name and keep eye contact with me for few seconds. And when he turned to me, I gave him a big kiss, and I was so happy that hours, days, weeks, months and years of hard work were paying off.

We certainly walked the tough walk. But Alex was on his way to recovery and I felt so lucky, lucky that he had the ability and strength within him to fight this battle against autism. I could never ask for anything more. I did not need the magic wand any longer…

“I love you, baby.” I said that summer night, but I met silence in return. I had to wait for two more years until I heard I love you back. And when I did, it rocked my world… 

With love always,
xo Zuma A.
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