This past Saturday (September 28th), my beautiful family and I attended the Answers for Autism Walk in Carmel, Indiana. Ever since J.J. was diagnosed with Autism almost four years ago, I have gotten the flyers in the mail advertising the annual event. Yet, never before had I been really interested or able to go.
This year has bred many changes within J.J. and his awareness of himself… It was only earlier this year that we told him about his Autism. We had waited until we thought he was old enough to somewhat fathom what it means to have Autism, rather than tell him when he is too young to understand and it just be another word to him. J.J. has done a lot of growing up in the past year. He is becoming more emotionally mature, more thoughtful, more clever, and more understanding of people as well as many other things.
So this year, we decided to attend the walk. We wanted to do something to show J.J. how proud we are of him and how special he is in this wide world. We tell him these things all the time, but as the old adage goes: Actions speak louder than words. Here was a chance for a bigger action than is possible in our daily lives.
We decorated t-shirts together to wear to the event, which J.J. had a lot of fun with. Drawing is his favorite thing to do these days (just a couple years ago, it was like pulling teeth just to get him to draw a stick-figure!) and being able to wear his creations was a source of great pride for him.
We primarily went for the purpose of showing our support, but we raised some donations from family members to help fund Autism programs in Indiana and to hopefully meet other families with children on the spectrum. My family and I are essentially an island in a sea of people which we share virtually nothing with. We are secular homeschoolers of a child on the Autism Spectrum, suburban permaculture implementers, and we have a diet that consists mostly of raw fruits and vegetables — to state our most drastic differences. There are not many people around where we live which share even one of those characteristics. But I digress… We hoped J.J. could find a friend with whom he could have a common bond.
Unfortunately we didn’t meet any new friends for J.J. or ourselves, but we had a pretty good time nevertheless. There were several activities there for the kids to enjoy. There was bubble wrap to pop, tons of balls to play with, and kiddie pools filled with dry rice where they could use sandbox-type toys to play. That was a huge success with both of my kids! J.J. got upset when it came time for the balloon release, as he had quickly become attached to his balloon. We tried to coach him to be ok with the concept of releasing the balloon in celebration of his Autism, but we ultimately let him keep it. How can you decide otherwise when your child tells you (almost in tears) it would make them “very happy” to take it home?
All-in-all, I am very glad we decided to go this year. It was a great experience for all of us, and getting involved in such things will only serve to help remind us of the special circumstances we have in our lives — we actually sometimes forget in our daily interactions that J.J. is on the spectrum… We also hope that as Ava grows older that she will have an inherent appreciation of what makes her brother different than most people, and I think going to functions like this can help.
When we asked J.J. if he would like to attend next year’s walk, he replied with a resounding “Yes!”. Hopefully in the coming years we can become more involved in things like this and expand our social circles to include those with similar life experiences. The older J.J. gets, the more important it will be for him to have someone besides Nathan, Ava, or I to connect with, whether it will be because of Autism or a shared interest in the Solar System.
In the end, I hope J.J. knows how proud Nathan and I are of him, and how incredibly special he is to us. We are so glad we got to show our support and love for him in a new way at this event.