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autism awareness month

April 29, 2011

The other day, a friend asked me what Autism Awareness Month was all about.

“Is it making people aware that autism exists?  They really need a whole month for that?”

I shrugged.  “Well, autism affects a lot of people,” I said as my sister, Angelica, popped into my head.  I have mentioned once or twice before that Angelica is autistic, and thought I’d close out Autism Awareness Month by writing a little about it.

Autism can be a delicate subject at times.  There are strong, differing opinions as to the cause, the recent rise in autistic diagnosis, the wide range of the autism spectrum, and how to ‘treat’ autism.  Debates can become heated because it’s a very personal issue for many of the debaters, who like me, have an autistic family member(s).  Questioning how and why is not as important to me as learning to love and accept Angelica as she is and doing whatever I can to help her become the woman God has called her to be.

I never had a problem accepting the diagnosis of high-functioning atypical autism, which only came a few years ago, but coping with daily life wasn’t as easy.  It took a lot of reading, research, trial and error, and countless meltdowns to figure out how to prevent said meltdowns.  Over-stimulazation was one of the biggest issues.  Situations that seemed normal to us were intense and overwhelming for Angelica.  Ang wasn’t able to tell us when she’s getting overwhelmed; we had to learn to pay attention to the subtle signs preceding a meltdown, and even then we couldn’t always prevent it.  We’ve made progress in this area, but it has been slow.

Decision-making was another major issue.  Decisions are easy for me.  I don’t even think about the countless ones I make every day, but I had to learn to be patient with Angelica and not pressure her for split-second decisions.  This was especially apparent when it came to eating out.  One practice Rosario and I developed to help Angelica decide what to order was to have one person choose three things off the menu and let her decide between those options.  If she didn’t like any of those, the person would present her with three more options, and so on until she eventually made a decision.  This way she wasn’t overwhelmed by the vast options on the menu or by multiple people badgering her with suggestions, nor was she stressed out from feeling pressured to make a decision right away.  It was a simple change, but it made a world of difference for all of us!  Of course, we are bombarded with a variety of decisions every day and there is no easy solution to many of them like this one, but we tackle each one as it comes.

I absolutely love my sister Ang to death!  The fact that she is autistic has actually made me more aware of her uniqueness and dignity as a daughter of God.  She challenges me to love unconditionally and to accept my own limitations along with hers.

Reader, now that you have been made a little more aware about my autistic sister, I will leave you with a few words I wrote in November for Angelica’s birthday:

Angie is one of the most amazing people I know.  Everyone has a unique cross to carry, and Angelica’s is particularly special.  Even with all the trials, difficulties and frustrations of being autistic, Ang continues to carry her cross with dignity and good humor.

proof of her good humor

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