We didn't used to hear much about autism. Then came the movie, "Rainman" and Dustin Hoffman brought autism to us in a very forward way. I found out more about the subject of autism when my grandson,Tim, was diagnosed. So often I've seen him do or say something that remind me of Hoffman in the movie, but this isn't a movie. It is real life to our family and countless other families. Tim didn't talk until he began school and then not much. His verbal skills are not good but he can get his point across when he needs to. He is classified as a high functional autistic. He is now 16 years old and a junior in high school. His entire school career has been mapped out with the help of both his parents.
He has always been mainstreamed into regular classes, but with special helps. It was very difficult in the early years of his schooling. Some of the other children thought he was a "Dummy". This is usually fostered by parents and other adults who are just not informed or educated about autism. When it was discovered that he had a high IQ and exceptional math skills many of the school staff and the other children began to treat him more fairly. The kids in school all know Tim and stick up for him now.
He has participated in the Special Olympics program for several years, reaching the State level. I am lucky that the Winter Special Olympics are held in Iowa City and I can attend and support him. This is a wonderful program for the challenged individuals who participate. We could all learn a lesson from their dedication, perseverance and enthusiasm. What I like about this is that in Tim's school the Special athletes are accompanied to the olympic games by regular high schoolers who are integrated with them while they are here in Iowa City. They come here the day before competing, stay in a motel, and participate in a banquet in their honor and the dance that follows. These special "kids" get to do the kinds of things that all other kids take for granted. My grandson has blossomed socially through this type of activity.
I recently went to his school for the music department's production of "The Sound Of Music". Tim is in the chorus this year and had a stage part in the production. He did not have to speak, but did have to waltz in the party scene. His partner was very understanding and helped him throughout the time they were on stage. He had to wear a tux and have make up and was just "one of the cast". There was a special feature each of the 3 times the production played. The music department had kisses available for the cast. These could be purchased for 50 cents each or 3 for one dollar and consisted of a certificate good for one "kiss" whereby you could leave your encouragements and kudos for the members of the production. A Hersey's kiss went along with the certificate and at the end of each performance the cast members collected their kisses. Tim got a huge amount from people who took the time to encourage him in this manner. It also raised some money for the music department.
Will Tim have a normal life? No, he will always have special needs, but he will always have people to encourage and love him, and understand those needs. I wanted to share with those of you whose lives have been touched by autism as well as those of you who want to know more about it. All of us working together can support the Autism Society and the furtherance of educating people about this disease. Maybe someday they will know exactly what causes it and what can be done to stop it. I pray for this.