April is National Autism Awareness Month. Tuesday was World Autism Awareness Day.
My awareness of autism spectrum disorder is not limited to one day or one month, however. I am aware of autism every second of every day. Rarely a moment goes by in which I am not aware — sometimes painfully — of autism and its effects both on the afflicted and their families.
I first became aware of autism a little more than nine years ago when the doctors at Children’s Medical Center in Dayton first diagnosed our son, Maximilian, with autism spectrum disorder. Immediately, I became aware that all the dreams I had for my baby boy when he was born — starting middle linebacker for The Ohio State University, Harvard medical school graduate, Nobel Prize winner — may not necessarily come true.
But I also was aware that no matter what challenges were going to be placed in front of him in his life, our family would stand behind Max.
And soon after, I became aware of a few other things, as well. I became aware how much my son can accomplish. I became aware he would be able to do so many things we once were scared would never be possible. I am now aware that Max will continue to grow and flourish every day. I am aware that he will be able to speak and tell me he loves me — by far our biggest fear when Max spent the first four years of his life without saying a single word to us. I am aware that Max can go to a “normal” school and can be loved and accepted by his teachers and classmates.
I’ve also become aware that we are not in this battle alone. There have been dozens of people who have reached out to us to let us know they are there both for him and our family. From the tutor from his behavioral health center who works with Max, to the incredible teachers at his schools, to the amazing tutors who provided therapy during the early parts of his life, to family who have provided Max with more support and love than I can possibly relate here — all the way to strangers who have let us know they are thinking about Max and are there for us should we ever need them.
I am well aware how much this little boy is loved by so many.
Of course, there also are some things I have become painfully aware of. I am aware that when we are in public, some people are going to give us sideways glances if Max is constantly reciting lines from one of his favorite television shows or YouTube videos or endlessly twirling pieces of string — common activities for someone on the autism spectrum.
I am aware he is going to require a little extra help throughout his school career. I am aware simple things like learning to brush his teeth or tie his shoes or ride a bike are going to be different for Max than they are for most other children. I am aware there is a chance Max may never be able to live independently from his mother or father.
But here’s what else I am aware of: I am aware of it when my son does or says something silly to put a smile on my face (which happens pretty much every second I’m with him). I’m aware of it when I can’t sleep at night because I’m worried about his future. I’m aware of it when he crawls up on top of me at night and falls asleep on my chest. Mostly, though, I’m aware of it when I look into those beautiful brown eyes and see that magnificent smile on his face.
You’re the best, Monster Man. I wouldn’t want you any other way.
And truthfully, I don’t need to be aware of much more than that.
David Fong writes for the Troy Daily News, a division of AIM Media Midwest.