I was asked recently "why don't you say that L is Autistic or that O is an anxious child?"
It's a simple answer really and it goes back to my first sentence - Autism does not define either of my children and anxiety doesn't define O.
The way that I see it is if I say that L is autistic or that O is an anxious child, I feel that I am saying that this is all they are. And this is simply not true.
L is so much more than his autism. L is my wild child. L is a crazy, funny, constantly on the go, sometimes cuddly, usually noisy, try anything and has no fear type of kid. L is eager to learn and eager to please. L's autism simply explains why he does what he does.
O is so much more than being an anxious child. O is kind, thoughtful, compassionate, intelligent, she has a wicked dry sense of humour, sometimes cautious, cuddly child. O just happens to have severe anxiety. At times her anxiety does prevent her from participating in activities that she enjoys but it doesn't stop her altogether.
It frustrates me incredibly when I hear adults say "oh my child can't do that because they're autistic" or when adults themselves say "I can't do that, I'm autistic." And keep in mind that the individuals that I hear saying this are on the higher end of the spectrum.
Yes, in some cases this is true, autism does prevent children and adults from participating in daily life. Autism can be incredibly difficult and can make every day life very challenging.
I am very fortunate in that both my little superheroes are on the higher end of the spectrum and for that I am thankful. O has a provisional diagnosis of High Functioning Autism and L has a diagnosis of mid to high functioning Autism - mostly level 2 with a few areas in level 1.
For my children, I do not want their autism to stop them from trying to achieve their dreams. I do not want them to view their autism as an excuse for not trying their hardest.
I know that I should never compare my children to each other but O was able to read simple books by the time she started pre-primary. L started pre-primary this year and is desperate to learn how to read like his big sister. At this point in time, L can recognise his own name and that is about it. I also know that L will get there in his own time. As Daddy superhero keeps reminding me "by the time L is 21 he will be walking and talking like everyone else."
L is on his own Autism journey and every now and then he takes little detours. He always makes his way back onto the path, but the little detours are and probably always will be an evitable part of his life.
Don't get me wrong, as I said earlier autism is incredibly difficult and I see both my little superheroes struggle on a regular basis. But I am always encouraging them to get back up and fight on. I want them to know that while autism does make life hard for them at times, I want them to continue fighting on.
Just last week I bought O a small Katana figurine as on Tuesday she got off to rough start at school but she didn't give up. O calmed herself down, with the help of myself, one of her lovely school friends and her teacher, and got on with her day. O looked at the Katana figurine and said "is this because I am a little warrior?" Exactly O!
I want them to see their autism as a gift, as a different ability. I want my little superheroes to be empowered by their autism - they may struggle in some areas but they exceed the expected norm in other areas. I want my little superheroes to be empowered to live their lives the way that works best for them.
The other reason that I don't like to refer to either of my little superheroes as autistic is that there are many negative stereotypes that society has towards individuals with autism.
Our personal perceptions, values and experiences will generally influence how we react when we hear people disclose information about themselves. My personal experience tells me that people tend to react in a negative fashion when they hear that someone is autistic.
Some members of society have assumptions that individuals with Autism are less capable than others. Others don't know how to process the autism disclosure as they look at my little superheroes and try to place them into what they "know" about autism.
And then occasionally we meet someone who agrees that autism is a gift!
I know that there will be people who disagree with me, and that is fine. If we all had the same opinions then we would all be very boring.
But imagine how an ASD diagnosis would feel if instead of being given a heartbreaking prediction of the future by a specialist, we were told "your child's or your own diagnosis is the greatest gift that you are going to be given. This is the chance for you and your family to become smarter and more inventive than you ever thought you could be. This is a chance for your child or you to prove us wrong. This is the chance for you and your family to change societies perceptions of autism."
So once again, autism doesn't define my little superheroes, it is just a part of them.