|Aubrey Grace • Summer of 2011|
When she was 3, my niece Aubrey Grace, was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) a few days before Christmas.
Now she's four-years-old.
And friends, she's beautiful.
She's inquisitive. She's kind. Her voice is that of a teeny-tiny-mini-bird. She chirps. She smiles. She hugs. She sings. She laughs. She's a big sister. She goes to school and works with a team of therapists. She has a Mommy. She has a Daddy. She likes Dora. She's pensive. She doesn't sleep a lot. She's quiet. She's working to make eye contact. She smiles at bubbles. She hugs. She leans in when you kiss her.
And she's perfect.
She always has been.
But she's different.
Sometimes she has bad days. Sometimes she doesn't understand so she responds the way she knows how to respond. And sometimes that's different from how your four-year-old child, niece or friend might respond.
Don't stare at her.
Don't glare at my sister and judge her parenting skills.
Instead, please tilt your head to the side and smile at them. Offer your support through your eyes. Through your non-verbal and verbal communication to those who are with you.
Your smile means you get it.
You know that there's more than meets the eye. And you understand.
Because you know what it's like to love someone more than life itself, too.
|Aubrey Grace - just hours old.|
It's been 16 months since my sister and her husband received confirmation that their suspicious were in fact valid: their daughter is autistic. What does this mean?
Here's the definition:
"Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. They include autistic disorder, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome. ASD can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances. Some persons with ASD excel in visual skills, music, math and art. Autism appears to have its roots in very early brain development. However, the most obvious signs of autism and symptoms of autism tend to emerge between 2 and 3 years of age. Autism Speaks continues to fund research on effective methods for earlier diagnosis, as early intervention with proven behavioral therapies can improve outcomes. Increasing autism awareness is a key aspect of this work and one in which our families and volunteers play an invaluable role."And here's what it means to me:
Aubrey needs compassion and understanding and respect. She deserves it. You see, 1 in 88 children is diagnosed as being on the spectrum. Autism is all around us, friends. It's not going anywhere.
We can't avert our eyes much longer. We need to learn more so that we can understand just why that particular cashier at the grocery store seems "odd" or that little boy down the street is "different".
Because these people, these sweet people, oh, they're so precious.
|Aubrey, Ferg and I. Aubrey was about 18 months old.|
As soon as Aubrey was diagnosed, I didn't know what I could do to support my sister, so I read. I was looking for positive stories about men and women living with ASD so that I could share them with my sister. I was delighted, no really... my heart was calmed... by reading stories of high-functioning people on the spectrum who are living productive lives alongside you and I.
I want that for my niece and I want that for others like her.
|Aubrey, about 3.|
Please, please learn more about this.
And when you do, please remember the truth that I've heard so many times: "If you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism."
No two people have the same experience with this disorder. Nope, just as each snowflake is unique and incredible and special -- so are all men, women, boys and girls who are on the spectrum. So if you know "an autistic" kid -- he's not going to be anything like that little boy or little girl you meet next year. Remember that.
And I think we also need to remember that we have no idea what it's like to be a parent of a child with special needs. Read this blog post: "7 Things you need to know about a Special Needs Parent."
|Summer of 2011|
Over the past year I've watched my sister transform from being the grieving parent of a child sentenced to autism; embarrassed to tell anyone, to a brave, staunch, tireless advocate of her daughter.
I am so proud of her.
Taryn, you are incredible and there are no words... just no words for how I feel about you.
My sister posted this on her facebook page yesterday. And I cried.
Just a year ago, my sister wouldn't have told anyone that Aubrey had autism. Now she's telling all of facebook in an attempt to spread awareness.
RIGHT ON, Taryn.
And amen, sweet sister. Aubrey IS a blessing. And we all want the same things for our children, don't we?
So, help me honor Aubrey.
Make a conscious decision to never, EVER judge a child again.
|Aubrey, last Friday|
And please, spend a few moments today learning about this Autism Spectrum Disorder. Check out http://www.autismspeaks.org.
And if you're not already wearing one, change your shirt and put a blue one on. Today, ya'll - we're lighting it up blue. (More about that here.)
|Aubrey Grace & Lila Ross - Summer of 2011|
And if you're so inclined, please give $5 in support of Autism research on my Autism Speaks, "Light it up" site.
Click HERE for it. And search my name: "Kylee". (My last name is Broughton.)
It'll look like this.
Become a fan of Autism speaks on Facebook TODAY. Awareness, friends. Awareness. https://www.facebook.com/autismspeaks
More posts about my sweet Aubrey here.
Thank you for reading this.