Autism Is An Invisible Disability…
I'm not a big fan of the word 'disability' for autism, although I love this sign pictured below. I do not see my nonverbal autistic son as having a disability, but then I'm his mum. I do, however, need people to know he is different and has limitations, and I totally get the invisible part. Yup, you cannot tell if a person is autistic just by looking at them. So, if autism is not visually recognisable how would anyone know if the behaviours they see are as a result of autism or just plain ill-mannered/rude/naughty? And do you think people will ask? No, they don't.
Even if I was able to brush off the judgemental looks and comments or choose not to see them by avoiding eye contact, it still leaves me lying awake at night feeling so hurt, crushed, isolated, depressed, wrongly judged. Most parents would do literally ANYTHING to protect and defend their children and there I am powerless to stop people from judging mine, every single time we step out of our front door.
The reality is that general perceptions of autism are not great, in fact, often woeful, and sadly, some autistic behaviours do come across to those who do not know as a bit rude/naughty/weird/odd etc. I absolutely exhausted myself to the point of a near breakdown trying to curate my son's behaviour and pre-empt every nano-second of his movement and behaviour when we were out and about in public, and increasingly I began to step in and apologise for his behaviours and say "I'm so sorry, he's autistic".
So, not only was I constantly labelling him, out loud, as autistic, before anything else, and only autistic (none of the regular name, age, likes and wonderful, charming, hilarious bits about his personality), I was then apologising for behaviours that are perfectly normal, comforting, safe, and a form of communication when he has no words, to him.
I had to stop but, I didn't want people to go on making the same assumptions and judgements, I wanted to do something to change it and educate them so that they could understand and eventually accept. My son may have my voice now but, he is going to grow up to be an autistic adult and possibly live on in society after I am gone. I am petrified beyond words about how people will treat him.
The solution was to either tattoo the word autism across my son's forehead or find a t-shirt with some sort of visual cue for people to see and understand. Thankfully, I decided upon the latter and went in search of an autism t-shirt or something my son could wear that would help give people a quick split second heads-up if you like. I couldn't find what I was looking for i.e stylish, subtle, tasteful, informative and that is how the seed of 'Autism Threads' captions t-shirts began.
One year in and my online business has taught me so many things one of which is to respect all parent/carer and actually autistic views on how they like to call themselves/their children; what they believe causes autism or not; who/what is to blame, if they feel they need someone or something to blame it on, or not; whether they choose to tell others about their child's or their own autism, or not, and the education/schools/therapies/diets/treatments etc they choose to go or not go with.
We are all on this autism journey of discovery, fascination and wonder together. Respecting each other's views is vital and our common focus should always be to shine a light on autism, encourage people to ask and start conversations by telling our stories.
Information. Understanding. Acceptance. Inclusion.