April is National Autism Awareness Month. And while it is a month that brings attention to autism, much more needs to be understood to help children and adults on the autism spectrum. That said, we’ve come a long way in creating awareness and greater opportunities for individuals with autism.
My wife, Kim, and I have learned much about autism in recent years. About a decade ago, our lives changed when our son, Jared, was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s is a diagnosis on the autism spectrum.
It took Jared some time to find his good place. He left public school as he was emotionally affected by changes in his daily environment. Consistency and stability, whether in school or with food, matter greatly to our son, and rotating into a new class every hour drained him emotionally.
As Jared struggled in public school, Kim searched for experts, materials—and guidance. Fortunately, as divine fate would have it, and while attending a nonprofit event, we met a couple with a child on the autism spectrum. Kim followed the advice this couple shared with us, and she visited with the executive director of the Autism Society of SE Wisconsin. This resource led to a conference that helped us develop a plan for Jared.
At the same time, home schooling became an ever-more viable option for us. While Kim is a former critical care registered nurse (CCRN) by degree and profession, she would soon become Jared’s schoolteacher.
Day after day, Kim shows compassion and commitment as she works tirelessly to help Jared develop his full potential. Whether it’s geometry or geography, Kim embraces teaching and promotes learning with an unparalleled empathy quotient.
Kim is my soulmate and a devoted mother to our three children. As a family, we’ve all become even closer during the last ten years. We’ve all learned and grown together.
As any parent will share, children on the autism spectrum are exceptional and gifted in their unique ways. This June, Jared will graduate from high school with honors. He’s a member of the National Honor Society.
Our son has overcome much over the past ten years—chief among these accomplishments include his confidence and acceptance of his gifts. He loves his many pets, enjoys playing Xbox with his friends across the Midwest, and is learning to drive.
About a year ago, Jared joined me at a father-son dinner. The room was packed with 700 fathers and sons, none of whom he knew. But he bravely stepped into the unknown and joined me. It was one of my proudest days as a parent to see my son subdue his fears and conquer the moment.
Jared takes life one day at a time. Now 18, he contemplates college and looks forward to adulthood.
Like most fathers and sons, Jared and I spend much time together. We watch Family Guy. We discuss politics. We work on home-improvement projects. I have watched my son grow into a man, and I couldn’t be prouder of him!
When I think about the heroes in my life that motivate me to be a better man, I simply need to look across the dinner table at my son and wife, my All-Americans. Life is indeed not fair, especially as parents learn of their child’s autism diagnosis. But I have seen the best in humanity as my wife and son, joined in purpose and with the purity of a mother’s love, conquer all that life has thrown at him.
As we bring continued awareness to autism this April, we do not seek your sympathy. Rather, we want to underscore that these children and adults bring special insights and different gifts that enrich our families, our communities, our country, and our world.
Very best wishes to all!