My son has autism. My son is autistic.
I don't personally care which way that fact is stated. Either way, it's a fact.
Unlike the parents of autistic kids like my little man 100 years ago, I can say it with zero shame. Sure, there's a genetic component, but genetics is a crapshoot that gave my red-haired mother and black-haired father a blonde-haired daughter. (Okay, not such a huge crapshoot since Dad had blonde hair for a long time as a kid before it went dark, dark brown - almost black.)
I am currently reading NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman (affiliate link). I'm nowhere close to being done with the book, but five hours or so in it's a fascinating collection of stories and information about the history of autism and how parents of kids on the spectrum are trying to find ways to help their children.
The actual use of the word "autism" to describe individuals only started in the early 1900s, though it started as a descriptor for severe schizophrenics.
Over the years, the application of the term has evolved and will likely continue to evolve as more and more research is completed to understand autism.
Steve Silberman shares historical accounts of individuals who would undoubtedly be diagnosed as autistic today. However, these individuals lived in times when they were considered feeble-minded, eccentric, or worse - a "life not worthy of life".
That phrase, "life not worthy of life", chills me to the bone. I look at my son and I can't fathom how anyone could consider him unworthy to live. I think about the children my friends have who are on the spectrum and I can't imagine why anyone would choose not to see how beautiful and amazing they are.
Less than a century ago, children who did not meet certain warped standards of the human condition were treated as less than human.
Today, children with special needs are in mainstream classes whenever possible. The system is not perfect, but it's no longer hiding every special needs child away in segregated classes or schools. Sure, not every child will be able to integrate into mainstream, but it happens far more often than it did 30 years ago when my mother was a special ed teacher.
It's easy to see the deficiencies that exist in this world that will create obstacles to our children when we're constantly advocating for their needs to be met. My first lesson learned from this book is that I'm ridiculously grateful to be raising a child on the spectrum now as opposed to 30, 50, or 70 years ago.
That's not to say we don't still have a long way to go to gain acceptance and get programs in place that will help our kids with development and coping skills. We absolutely have a long way to go still.
It's just nice to look at the road ahead and realize that it isn't quite as bumpy these days as it was for those who came before us. That some of the mountains have already been conquered.