02 April 2013

Today is World Autism Awareness Day. To bring awareness to autism, many landmarks, including the Empire State Building, turned blue.

According to autism advocacy group Autism Speaks, autism affects 1 in 88 children and 1 in every 54 boys. All the children I know with autism are boys, or maybe it just manifests itself in a different way in girls that I don’t recognize..

The stats are daunting, but there are so many encouraging stories of people with autism who are finding their own way, especially among my own friends who have children with autism. One of my friends has turned into a leading national advocate after his son was diagnosed and has even reached the lofty levels of the White House to educate and advocate about autism. 

The story that has touched me the most belongs to two friends of mine whose son’s autism is severe enough that he has trouble speaking and doesn’t like being touched, but he functions at a high enough level that he was able to get his GED.  Ever since Dean was very little, he loved to go to Chuck E. Cheese. The closest pizza parlor was more than 20 miles from where he lived, but his parents would frequently take him there because it made him so happy.  After he got his GED, he was looking for a job. It turned out that a Chuck E. Cheese across town  was auditioning for new Chuck E. Cheese mascots. The job entailed not speaking, wearing a very hot costume, communicating with the kids through hugs, and being able to do the Chuck E. dance (I don’t exactly know what this entails since I’ve never been to a Chuck E. Cheese). Dean’s father called the store’s manager and explained the situation about his son and asked if he could audition. The manager said sure. There were 60 applicants for three spots.  After Dean auditioned, the manager named the applicants who should stay. Dean’s name wasn’t called. Deans dad went to thank the manager anyway and she said, “Oh, your son is hired! We’ve never had anyone who already knew all the dances!” 

Dean is now a star at his local Chuck E. Cheese and his manager, an incredible loving and wonderful woman according to my friends, constantly sings his praises.  Once he puts on the costume, he’s transformed into a character who loves to hug children and communicates with absolutely no difficulty at all. His sense of pride and sense of responsibility has soared. With his very first paycheck, he took his mom out to eat...not at Chuck E. Cheese.

Dean doesn’t drive, so he takes transportation provided for him every day to work and he is thriving. His parents have gone from the horribly scary state of wondering who will take care of their beloved son when they pass on to seeing their son be able to take care of himself when they go away for the weekend. He has blossomed in ways they had so hoped for, but feared they’d never realize.

Dean’s dream is to be a character at Disneyland. I have no doubt that one day soon his parents are going to tell me that he’s the new Goofy (that’s his favorite). 
 We rush to  call it a miracle when something like this happens, but it’s really the beautiful elixir of  love, faith, belief, kindness, patience, and persistence. And since I’m rooting for Dean to become Goofy, let’s throw in a little pixie dust.

Today’s is Chooseday Tuesday, and even though they didn’t ask me, I’m making the $10 donation in Dean’s parents’ name to Autism Speaks.   

April 2: Autism Speaks

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