One thought was that is was March 31st, and that the next day would be the start of Autism Awareness Month. I watched PJ riding along and thought about how, at this time last year, he didn't have the motor skills to ride a scooter. Foot planted, using other leg to push, steering; it was all too hard for him to do. PJ's scooter skills still need some work, but he happily moved himself along as fast as his legs would go, straightening himself when he stumbled. Not only that, but this year, his new-found scooter skills were accompanied by his telling me "Mommy, I can ride my scooter! Mommy, I can DO it! I can do it by myself!"
That's new, too.
It's a little difficult to lend any attention to Autism Awareness Month because, of course, we are living Autism Awareness Life. The month simply gives a spotlight to voices who are making noise every day of the year. Parents who are advocating for their kids to be have the tools they need to learn, doctors telling scarred moms and dads that their child isn't simply "quirky" or "different" (something that is happening at an alarmingly increasing rate), and adults who have Autism wanting to make a living and live a life like their "typical" adult peers.
We walked and scooted through the neighborhood, PJ using his developing verbal skills to try and convince me we should go to the playground, and I basked in his voice. I don't always bask because OMG can you stop talking about the characters from Cars for a second? Just because the words have been hard fought doesn't mean that they aren't annoying sometimes! But with the air on our faces and the spring flowers blooming, I couldn't help but think of how much PJ had bloomed himself.
It's all hard work. I had to wait a long time to write PJ's first word ("Cake!" down in his baby work, and each word after that was a victory, earned by endless hours of Early Intervention, school, and other therapies. It was certainly time I would have spent simply playing with my child, but it pays off in dividends on an night in early spring, when he's motor skill-ing and talking and being his best self. The moments that are easy are so much sweeter, so much more valuable, so noticed and that is one thing I will be endlessly thankful for, the gifts of slowing down and taking things as they come. Would that mean as much if we were rushing through a typical life?
At any rate, we have this whole month to share and reflect and do what we can to tell our story, a story that we share with so many other families. And it's not just families directly affected by Autism who are walking this walk. Anyone can "Light It Up Blue," and make donations to amazing organizations like Autism NJ. You can also just ask me about PJ. You can learn a little bit about things like inclusion education and realize that it doesn't just apply to kids like PJ but is beneficial to all children. If PJ is losing his shit at the playground, don't look away. Awareness isn't as hard as it seems. It doesn't really need a spotlight. It just means you hold a little space in your heart for kiddos like PJ who need it.
"Shine a light, shine a light..."
- Philadelphia Freedom, Elton John