I remember when I was maybe 15 or 16 years old and my younger cousin was in his toddler years. He was acting up in some way that was not good… I can’t even remember what he did wrong. What I do remember is that when I was trying to explain to him that what he was doing was wrong, my blood began to boil. He would never look me in the eye; or he would burst out with a random laugh; or he would look off like he didn’t have a care in the world that I was talking to him. My voice got louder and my tone more heated. This little twerp had a major attitude and my patience couldn’t stand it. After what seemed like hours ( really only a few minutes) I let him go with a firm warning not to do it again. The warning never went far and he constantly repeated his bad behavior.
As a young teen it was infuriating seeing a child act this way. I was so confused as to how my cousin could just not care that he was getting screamed at. I thought… is it possible that he is being spiteful and genuinely rude at such a young age? He won’t look at me, he won’t listen, and he always does again what he’s been told not to do. It seemed he just refused to learn.
A few years later my cousin was labelled as autistic. The idea of someone in the family being labelled with a type of mental illness was extremely hard for my family to take and controversial between my relatives. It was hard to accept and easy to deny that my cousin was autistic, especially because he is very high functioning. To many, his behavior was not a mental illness but just due to the fact that he is shy and was not properly guided in acquiring better decision making skills. This denial and these excuses went on for a few more years.
When I began college I took an intro to psychology class and learned a little bit about autism. Obtaining this small amount of knowledge helped me so much in understanding my cousin; and my personal opinion was that he was properly diagnosed. An opinion that many of my relatives still did not share or like to hear.
Those times that I would yell at him for doing something wrong, he was never trying to ignore me, or be rude. I came to find that, those with Autism literally see things extremely different than anyone else. He doesn’t look at me when I am talking to him because it is physically hard for him too. When his mind see’s a face it intakes so much more detail, that it is overwhelming. I saw a TV special where a girl with autism described it as taking over 1000 pictures every second. When I took that psychology class, I read in my book that those with autism use the same part of their brain that recognizes inanimate objects to recognize human faces. This is one reason why it is hard for them to read certain emotions and to respond accordingly. So when I was yelling at my cousin he could not interpret that my mood was angry. This is why he would randomly laugh. He was caught in a position where he did not know how to respond because he did not know what emotion I was giving off.
Knowing this has sparked more patience within me toward the mentally ill. In the case of my cousin, I was able to look past his social misunderstandings and see his real personality shine through. He was not being a vindictive little twerp who wanted to ignore me; he really just didn’t understand what was happening. He has a hard road ahead of him to try to overcome his small handicap so as to fit into society; but he has already learned ways on his own to cope. I like to compare him to Bumblebee from “Transformers”. Bumblebee can’t talk, and uses lyrics from songs on his radio to respond to others or transmit a thought. My cousin has learned to do the same in social situations. Often he will use a phrase he heard from a show on TV or a phrase a relative says a lot to try to respond to questions or to participating in conversations. Sometimes it fits, and sometimes it doesn’t. But he is trying, and getting better everyday! The fact that he understands those around him, and we can tell he understands us, is a great and encouraging gift. Many families with an autistic child do not have this gift because a lot of the time the child cannot even speak.
I want to spark understanding. If you did not know why autistic people cannot look at you, or why they are socially awkward, I hope you have a small understanding of it now. When crossing paths with the autistic do not assume that because they cannot respond, they do not hear and understand everything you are saying to them. They can. With guidance, patience, and understanding they will be successful and thrive in a modern society.
Right now an organization called Sevenly is in the middle of a month long campaign to raise money for a group called “Autism Speaks”. A group founded in 2005 that puts the money they raise toward research by providing science grants and awards. They also provide autistic families with financial grants. Sevenly is selling Mens, Womens, and Kids clothing and accessories! Fashionable shirts and wall art with a positive message, that’s pretty sweet. $7 of each item is going directly to “Autism Speaks”. Check it out, and hurry!
I like this company’s creative way to spread awareness and raise money. I don’t think it’s their first time working with “Autism Speaks” either; because I bought a shirt from Sevenly a few years ago that had proceeds go to them. Which is why I received the email for THIS campaign, of course. right now I can’t afford to buy anymore clothes from them… but can you?
Did I create a spark?
Yes? Good. Check out all the cool clothes —> http://autismspeaks.sevenly.org/?utm_source=EMAIL&utm_campaign=IntroductionEmail_1_9_2014&utm_medium=SEVENLY
Sevenly is also doing a campaign for the National Autism Association. Check out those clothes here!
Don’t want to spend money? No worries, trust me I understand, just spread the word!
Here is a little bit about Sevenly itself. =)