Autism Awareness for Jack & Jill

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(Telling our story)

To close out this year’s Autism Awareness Month, Arizona and I did our very first tandem presentation + interactive discussion this past Saturday for Jack & Jill families (Los Angeles Chapter).

A girlfriend of mine, who is chapter chair, started talking to me over a year ago about how amazing it would be if I could present about autism awareness, acceptance and understanding to families in her group. I thought April would be the best month for it as “Autism Awareness” is at its height.

I put together an interactive agenda with slides to tell my story, activities and various talking points around autism.

As I was prepping for the event, I talked to Arizona about my plan. I didn’t expect her to be a part of it, but I asked her if she would like to tell her story. She said she would think about it.

The day of the event came. That morning, I walked through the few slides I had prepared and talked to Arizona about what I would be sharing with the group of families. Arizona said, “Mama, I might have some things to say.” I said, “Sure. You’re welcome to say whatever you want.”

And, turns out she did. We had an amazing group of 8-13 year old children and their Mothers at our home. They were thoughtful, curious and genuinely interested in our story and experiences as an Autism family. Arizona talked about a typical “day in the life” for herself and some of the things that are hard: going to school and worried about the fire alarm going off, what it’s like going into public restrooms for fear of automatic toilets and hand dryers going off unexpectedly, and wanting to do her own idea but not being allowed to all the time. She also talked about her super powers: her ability to create stories and draw Anime figures. She talked about her awesome one to one aide she has at school with her, Ms. Adi, and how she likes to joke around with her. She talked about her three best friends at school. She also brought out props to share with the kids: squishies and slimes to help her calm her body.

We talked as a group about how we are all made differently; no one is the same. And, how cool is that?

I had prepared the following talking points, that we entered into a discussion about:

  • It’s okay to be curious about people different from you!
  • Our brains let us understand everything we see, hear, smell, touch, and taste and that the brain of a person with Autism works differently, which might make it hard to talk, listen, understand, play and learn in the same way that others do.
  • Everyone with autism is different, the same way all children have differences. I introduced the term “Autism Spectrum” to discuss what a spectrum means.
  • There are other ways to communicate besides talking verbally to tell us what people with autism know and want: maybe your friend is flapping their hands or rocking or repeating noises; they might be trying to tell you something or trying to calm down.

Over all, it was an inspirational day of discussion and learning. During the Q&A period at the end, one of the boys asked Arizona, “If you could be born with or without autism, which would you choose?” She responded, “Well, I don’t know because I love myself exactly the way I am.”

And even though I enjoyed every minute in participation with my 12-year-old daughter who has come so FAR on this journey, I will never expect or force her into talking about autism (or anything else about her life, for that matter) if she doesn’t want to.

My wish for Arizona is to continue on her journey of self-awareness, self-discovery, self-acceptance and self-love. However that presents itself to the outside world is fine with me. I am so proud to be her mother and I vow to keep her best interests at heart, ALWAYS.

It is my passion to share my lived experience as an autism mama with other families; and part of my understanding and awareness around my child is that she moves to the beat of her own drum. And, I will always honor that!

 

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