I met my first lactose intolerant person 2 years ago – a witty soft spoken man probably in his late 40s. He was visiting the office for a tour cum consultancy and in his last mail he stated; “I can’t stand wheat, cheese and milk”. See, I could understand the wheat and cheese part, but milk. Milk? My man how far? I stared at that mail 10 more minutes, reading line after line to understand if I had asked the correct question first, and if that response was for me. Needless to say, he came, stayed a week and I had no reason to inform the kitchen to bring him milk for tea or coffee or anything at all.
I live everyday dazed by the beauty of difference; the disproof of normalcy and establishment of uniqueness. I started working on autism advocacy some 3 years ago and since then, it’s been a close to reflex action to read everything about autism and when I am privileged to meet someone on the spectrum, I’m careful to observe how special they are.
Before now, I didn’t understand how a meal could be defined as colourful till I met Temilade (not real name) at an event. Temi is a 6 year old who had tagged along with her mother to a book event I was attending. At break, we got ready for the best part of the event – food. Ignore that. The buffet was real nice believe me, drumsticks everywhere. Temi’s mum was right behind me on the queue and when it was our turn the choices had become few, so we settled for the fried rice which to me was properly garnished, but to Temi was a bad choice. I watched as she frowned at the sight of the meal, threw a little tantrum forcing her mum to separate the carrots and the green bell peppers chopped into even squares, leaving just the rice. What I had seen was simply educating. I had always thought sensory sensitivity in autism was unique to sound but right there I had experienced it with food and colour. I imagined surprising Temi with a brilliantly colourful birthday cake and the otherwise sad appreciation I’d get, not because she wouldn’t be grateful but because it would trigger a sensory note.
This little experience tells a tiny story of what it’s like with a child, more so, a child on the autism spectrum. Understanding a child’s needs and wants can be as daunting as it gets. It’s like a degree you never graduate from. Life on its own is complex and requires strong attention to detail. Despite the mistake with Temi’s food, I watched her mum separate every bit of colour from that meal till it was ready and okay for Temi. That takes attention to detail but not just that, that’s care too, real care and love (you and I know she could still be forced to have that meal despite the tantrums).
So, like I said, this is a tiny view into what caring for someone on the spectrum is. It requires love, care and most importantly acceptance. People all over the world have lent their voice to mark April which is World Autism Awareness Month; but as the month ends, this is a reminder that the awareness doesn’t stop there. Everyday is autism awareness day. Every month is autism awareness month.
Care. Show love. Be autism aware. True awareness begins with acceptance!