Everyone Could Use a Little More Autism Awareness


April is National Autism Awareness Month, which makes it a great time to recognize that those on the autism spectrum may be different, but they deserve respect just like everyone else.

My son never ceases to amaze me. I was at work, and the 5:30 pm knock on the pharmacy door signaled what always is my favorite part of the day: Julian had arrived. I came out to greet him and give him my traditional kiss on the top of his head and light smack on the posterior. (I have done this since he could walk, and I'm not going to stop.)

“Dad, look what I got today,” he said, holding up a bracelet with the phrase “Autism Awareness” on it. That reminded me that this is April—National Autism Awareness Month.

I have seen examples of all different levels of the disorder in my career. I have seen the absolutely heartbreaking nonverbal introverts, the really smart quirky kids, those with Tourette's Syndrome, and many others at every stage in between. (In addition, let's not forget that ADD and ADHD are also stops on the autism spectrum.)

I've had parents cry when they told me they had given in and put their kid on a psychoactive medication. I have seen amazing behavioral changes brought about by pharmacology that allowed parents to get their kids back. These instances have reminded me that some pediatric psychiatrists are worth their weight in gold.

I believe that in legitimate cases medication is absolutely warranted. But I have also seen kids thrown on ADHD regimens just so they would shut up and their parents could enjoy a quiet 3-martini evening. Those parents should be ashamed of themselves, and the pediatricians who write easy methylphenidate scripts should have their licenses pulled. I have seen the personality zapped out of a kid just to keep them docile—a shameful turn of events indeed.

The highly functional end of the autism spectrum, better known as a mild form of Asperger Syndrome, fascinates me. There are the socially awkward genius types. While a little quirky and self-absorbed, they can do high math in their head and maintain a B+ average without studying. When you do get them to study, they are straight-A students. To paraphrase an early 90's country drinking song, though, they are not big on social graces.

Asperger kids can come off as very high energy, and "regular" kids running at a slower pace can have a hard time dealing with them. The funny thing is that being a little left of center doesn't bother any of the Asperger children I know. On the contrary, they embrace their oddness.

As a kid, I was about as socially awkward as could be. I was quirky and often felt that I didn't fit in. In group conversation, I would routinely come up with the most out-of-left-field non-sequitur comments. If I were born 10 years ago, they probably would have put a name on my condition. Still, I turned out all right. Even before Asperger Syndrome was well known, some kids with the condition grew up to dominate the computer industry. Take Bill Gates, for instance.

If you're a parent, have a talk with your kids about autism. Let them know that their peers on the autism spectrum are great kids; they are just different, and if your kids open themselves up to them, they might learn a bit about seeing the world from a different perspective. At the very least, they should give these kids a chance to be themselves. Peace.

Jay Sochoka, RPh, wants everyone to know that this is National Autism Awareness Month.

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