The autism community promotes ‘awareness’. To Matt Carey, the father of an autistic son, the meaning of ‘awareness’ is very real.
We are often told to be “aware” of autism. But what does that do, really? With awareness comes acceptance. And for my son acceptance means being able to live his life.
A few years ago, I took my son for a walk to our local shopping center. We have done this every weekend day since he was in a stroller. This time we passed Nico’s hardware store, where they always keep a stock of the American flags my son likes to buy. When they see us pass, they often start a fresh batch of the free popcorn he loves.
At the donut store, Mary and Monica helped him learn to buy things and to wait his turn. We’ve been doing this for years, but they never lose enthusiasm. At the bagel store my son walked right up to the counter as where Sylvia handed him his favorite cinnamon raisin bagel with her traditional “this is for you!” To this day, the workers at the bagel store hand him a bagel with a smile as he walks in. He eats while we wait in line to pay.
At our local market, I got distracted, as parents are wont to do. And my son wandered off, as children are wont to do. I ran to the door panicked because I had to make sure he was safe from traffic. Once I was pretty sure he was still in the store, I ran from aisle to aisle, yelling his name. Still scared. And what I found was a neighbor smiling at me, pointing and saying, “he’s over there”.
She knew us. She was aware that he needed support. When she saw him alone, she kept an eye on him.
He was 7 years old then. He’s 14 now. He still needs a lot of support, and always will.
When my father was growing up, people like my son would be institutionalized. When I was growing up, people with disabilities were hidden. Now that my son is growing up, he lives in a time and a community in which people are aware that he needs support. They accept him and know he deserves respect.
Awareness means my son can be in a community. Acceptance means he can live his life.
With a Perspective, this is Matt Carey.
Matt Carey is a tech researcher in San Jose and parent of two.