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What is autism supposed to look like?

By Dee DiMemmo, mom and guest blogger

“Your child has autism”.

It is a sentence that strikes fear in the heart of many parents. Hopes, wishes and dreams can be extinguished with that sentence. It’s a sucker punch to the gut. But my kiddo doesn’t look like he has autism.

Autism is a spectrum disorder. In plain words, there is a range of autistic behavior-from mild to severe. At different times, children can be at different points on the spectrum. My son is considered to be high functioning, which means he is in a regular class at school, does regular things but has some social delays as well as sensory integration issues. If you look at him, like many other autistic children, he looks like a regular kid. He doesn’t have any obvious symptoms or signs.

Certain situations can trigger a reaction. Large crowds can be difficult. Trips to the mall or box stores are a challenge, due to sensory overload. Certain clothing can make getting ready in the morning difficult. Saber doesn’t eat certain foods due to textures, smells and colors. Thanks to Occupational and Speech Therapies, his palate has become more diverse, but it’s still hard to find nutritious foods that he’ll eat. We don’t eat out in restaurants because it overwhelms him sensory-wise. He’s never been left with a babysitter, mainly because finding one who has experience with autism is nearly impossible.

On the other hand, Saber is an incredibly smart young man. He was reading by the time he was 3, and taught himself to write cursive for fun in preschool. He can solve complex math problems, and science fascinates him. Saber is gifted musically, playing both piano and oboe. He is a talented artist and loves to create comic strips. He is kind and loving toward animals and people. He can instinctually find a hurting person and share joy with them. For all the negatives of autism, there are so many positives.

When Saber was younger, we loved to go on walks at the Outdoor Campus. I gained a lot of insight into his world on them. He would stop and look at a flower or a blade of prairie grass and see shading and a variety of colors. Playing in sand at the park, he was fascinated as it would drift out of his hands. Even today, his view of the world is much different-seeing the beauty, taking it much more slowly, finding the joy in those in between moments.

My welcome to autism moment came when Saber was 4. It was a rainy day, and we were in Barnes & Noble playing on the train table. Since it was raining, he was already feeling off because our normal routine had been changed. When another child came to play on the table too, Saber didn’t want to play with them. He grabbed the train out of the little boy’s hand. Tears from both kids followed. The other mother basically blasted my kid’s behavior. I explained he is autistic and just learning to play with others.

She responded, “But he doesn’t look autistic.”

I don’t know what autism is supposed to look like.

Autism looks like each person who has it. Autism comes in a variety of colors and sizes. It speaks in many different languages, sometimes in silence. It speaks in noises, spins, hand flaps and rocks. It speaks in small incremental wonders and miracles. It looks like us.

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