As April is National Autism month, I wanted to use my column, "Life With Our ‘Artistic' Child” as a platform for local caregivers and friends of loved ones with autism to share their personal experiences nurturing an individual on the spectrum, and their thoughts on why building autism awareness and acceptance is so vital. An infinite amount of thanks to The Rockaway Times, which has been so supportive from the genesis of this column and Rockaway Beach Autism Families (RBAF) support group, which I founded over two-and-a-half years ago. My first guest to express his heartfelt experiences, feelings and desires for our autism community is my daughter’s dad, Rado Rafiringa. Rado is not just an awesome dad with the patience of Job, but a great sounding board and support for all my efforts and goals to build autism awareness and acceptance in our community.
Authored by Rado F. Rafiringa
As a teen growing up on Madagascar’s red soil, my only concept of autism was rather vague. If you asked me then about autism awareness, I would have simply mentioned a documentary about it I saw once on TV. I had no idea what an autistic person was like, and back then, I probably couldn’t be bothered if someone brought the word, ‘autism,’ up. Then my daughter came along and was diagnosed to be on the spectrum.
Today, I would describe autism awareness as knowing that E.T. lives in my house, and experiencing all the good, weird, and awful that comes with it. It means having to consciously, and constantly adapt my concept of “normal” to accommodate my daughter’s alien ways. She started talking in single words, and from the age of three became non-verbal, and communicates only with body language and grunts whenever she gets out of her world and wants something. It also means that I have to explain and apologize when she acts in ways that slaps polite society’s norms in the back of the head without warning, so that no harm or ill will come to her. Most of the time it works, people let it go. Some people are less understanding, but so far no one has harmed her on my watch. Autism awareness is that cold feeling of dread, when she suddenly runs across the street and almost gets hit by a car. It is also knowing that my daughter is straightforward and unambiguous in her actions, which makes being around her at times far easier than being around “normal” folks. She always makes her intent known and presents herself the way she means to. Autism awareness is taking it all, and retaining the ability to remain a sane, happy, and flawed human.
From where I stand, she does not worry me, the world we live in does. It is a world where the seeds of evil are sown and thrive on ignorance. While autism awareness starts at home, those of us who live around autistic people cannot afford to keep it there. We have a duty to extend our awareness to the rest of society, in order for our autistic kith and kin to have a fair shot at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It also means we have to constantly challenge our autistic loved ones to adapt to the world they were born in, along with its complexities and nuances. Autism awareness is showing the world by example that living with E.T. is feasible and normal. Until the turn of the century, gay marriage was not feasible, nor was being gay considered “normal.” Today, only the ignorant are trying to kill gay people for being different, and Jussie Smollett even had to fake it. So there it is folks, spread the awareness around, it is for the best.