Reimagining Autism: Living Beyond …

Posted: September 18, 2014 in Disability Issues
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Andrew never says, “I can’t see the ball.” He just gets out there and plays his heart out. He’s great at golf for the same reason that a person without a disability is great at golf … a “drive” to be accomplished at a sport that he loves!!

Andrew, my twelve year old son, has big dreams! Although diagnosed with low vision due to albinism at two months and then diagnosed with autism at two years, he plans for his future just like anyone else his age.  Watch out world, here he comes! He already has his first car picked out — a beautiful bright bumblebee yellow Camaro! He has drafted several designs of his future home for he and the children he wants to adopt. Later he plans on getting married to someone who likes children. Smart boy! At some point he wants to go to college and then try his hand at entrepreneurship by owning a toy store where ALL the merchandise is free! If all his other dreams fall through he plans on living off of his professional golfing career and doing some part-time preaching!  No joke, he’s an incredible kid!!  🙂

In 2005 I was raising my son with multiple diagnoses in the midst of a flood of “expert opinions”. There was an overwhelming urge to pull the covers over my fearful eyes and silently exhale any hope I had for a “normal” life. Fortunately my story does not end with the headlines: Missing Mother Found Hiding Under Her Blanket, and I began to see my son and myself through eyes of opportunity!!  My perceptions received a major overhaul at a Partners in Policy Making Leadership Program in Nashville, Tennessee where I was privileged to hear Robert Watson, Executive Director of DateAble Inc, speak. Andrew was three when Robert challenged my old thoughts and gave a new paradigm to consider in terms of intimacy, career, success, independence, traveling, and happiness for people with disabilities! The class of 2005/2006 was swept away in Robert’s ability to share stories with humor and authenticity related to growing up with cerebral palsy, tales of his grandfather, school, meeting his wife, career and work. When Robert’s presentation concluded, I had come to a radical decision that I didn’t want to have a “normal” life! Suddenly, normal seemed boring. Turning a mental corner and leaving defeat behind,  I said “hello” to my new friend … HOPE!!

As my mind continued the shift from despair to hope, I began to  encourage Andrew and others to see beyond disabilities. This takes faith on everyone’s part because we are speaking of things as if they just might come true.  I’m convinced that disabilities should never prevent us from hoping, dreaming, and becoming! It’s not for me or anyone else to decide what the future will hold! The faith isn’t in the realization of the dream; it’s in believing there is more to come!! Please know that I am not minimizing Andrew’s or anyone else’s challenges. Some days his challenges become the day, but they do not become him, our family, nor our life. There are too many other wonderful and amazing ways to identify my son, and any other child with or without disabilities, that will sow seeds of life! It’s important to choose our words with care!

As we enter a new season of societal acceptance where disabilities are considered a natural part of our culture to be respected along with every other aspect of humanity, I listen for new ways to re-introduce my son and what it means to have a disability to our community. This is not a fairy tale land of denial but a perception change for our society that is strongly influenced by self-advocates, family members of those with disabilities, and others who honor the contributions of a diversified culture. It’s an exciting time seeing grass root beginnings become nationwide movements! Robert Watson’s stories of life and leadership continue to teach me as I re-imagine Andrew (and the disability community) as more than needs, therapies, or limitations. Now I see leaders, contributors, play writers, actors, athletes, students, employees, colleagues, presidents, directors, musicians, parents and on and on and and on … If you are having trouble seeing beyond the disability, make friends with several accomplished adults with disabilities along with family members that are a few years ahead on this life’s journey. Ask them if you can add them to your community of advisers. You’ll be pleased with the light that will appear through the clouds. 🙂

***

When I contacted Robert a couple of weeks ago about including him in this blog piece, he told me that he has written a book along with co-author, Mike Hilson, called Speak Life: Re-Introducing a Language of Love and Gratitude. I can’t think of a more appropriate title for this book! It was the very reason that I was contacting him in the first place! He spoke life into my family while giving me the encouragement to see Andrew as a person and not a disability.  I highly recommend everyone reading Speak Life but particularly for any teacher, parent, pastor, or community leader. It’s a short but powerful read that you will not regret!!

In addition I found this link to a You Tube video that I think you will enjoy regarding Speak Life.
http://youtu.be/7byUWs1Kqn4

Link to purchase book: http://www.amazon.com/Speak-Life-Re-Introducing-Language-Gratitude-ebook/dp/B00K1LG2L4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1411012562&sr=8-1&keywords=speak+life+watson

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Roberts bio from DateAble website: http://www.dateable.org/watson.htm

Robert Watson is the Executive Director of DateAble Inc., a non-profit dating service for people with and without disabilities. He is also President of United Cerebral Palsy of Montgomery and Prince Georges County (Maryland) and advises many other disability advocacy organizations. Robert married to his wife of 11 years, Lynn, whom he met through DateAble before he became the Executive Director. He is also an avid Washington Redskins fan and enjoys spending time with his family in the southern Maryland area where he was born, raised, and still resides. Through his exposure with DateAble and United Cerebral Palsy, Robert has delivered many presentations in the United States, Canada, and Australia on a variety of topics including disability awareness, sexual intimacy issues, and dating with a personal care attendant present.

Note: Please know that we have had wonderful therapists and teachers along the way that have cared beautifully for Andrew. This blog post is in no way to diminish early childhood interventionists, special education teachers, or any type of service to the disability community. We are deeply grateful for everyone who has spoken life into our family and provided us the resources through consultation and direct services for a future of possibilities.

 

 

 

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