Each April, every person in the autism community who can put two sentences together takes to the internet to spread awareness, acceptance, raise money, fight, complain and praise the accomplishments made. Sometimes all of that happens in a single article or at least in the comments. If you’re unaware of the ups and downs in the community, let me simplify it for you. We’re a big family. One in 68 people has autism and that means there are a lot of people at the holiday gathering in April. Families bicker quite a lot. We fight about causes of autism, how to treat it or whether to eradicate it or accept neurodiversity as our platform. We discuss and argue nomenclature and where money goes to research organizations and which television shows are presenting autism truthfully and respectfully while not ignoring the challenges of living on and near the spectrum. Sometimes there are even drunken brawls that end in a smearing of blue and puzzles and taupe all over the dinner table and that’s okay, because we’re still family when the month is over and fights can lead to progress.
We still recognize each other wherever we go. We reach out to offer help to the new relatives on the block. We encourage each other most of the time when things are tough and you can bet your bottom dollar that if any one of our family members has a problem, we all swing into action like a well-trained special forces squadron. When we are together, we are strong and unstoppable.
When I think of how I relate to everyone in April, I can’t help but remember what happened the night I graduated from college. Do you know this guy?
This is Father Guido Sarducci, a character created by comedian Don Novello. It’s important that you have an idea of his accent before I tell this story. Unlike a lot of my friends, I had no clear path set up after graduating. I had no idea what I wanted to be and there I was all grown-up. I was just elated to be finished with school and my mother threw a wonderful party for me. I got wasted. At the end of the evening I was perched over the porcelain throne in my mother’s bathroom while she held my hair and laughed at me for trying to speak other languages I had learned in college. Then I broke out into Father Guido-speak. My mother had no intention of letting me off the hook, so she encouraged the discussion by laughing more and asking me where I was from.
“The Middle”, I said.
“The Middle? Where is that?”, my mom asked.
“Not the left side, not the right side. Straight down the middle.”
Now, why in the world would that be the thing I think of when writing about April and Autism? It’s simple. For all the fussing relatives throwing puzzle pieces, lights and blue jello at each other, there are a whole lot of us that come from The Middle. We get both sides. We understand why Aunt Rita hates the puzzle piece, we agree that Uncle Ned feels a connection to blue and we find ourselves hoping the family can sit down at least one time in April and hug, or at least not throw things and make Grandma cry.
Whatever you believe April should be about and how it is discussed, let’s do ourselves a favor and try harder to respect each other, listen to differing opinions and try our best not to sling food during the family portrait, for Grandma’s sake.