I have been following Amanda on Twitter for quite awhile. I love reading her tweets and talking to her. She is such a strong woman, a wonderful Mom and person. She is the biggest advocate for Autism that I have “met” and I admire her so much. I am honored to have her guest posting for Autism Awareness Month!
Autism is a marathon, not a sprint
Recently, my four-year-old autistic son, Billy, was in a foot race at his school. It was at the annual spring festival, and there was a race for each age group, including pre-Kindergarten, Billy’s group.
We had been practicing “racing” for weeks. I’d shout, “Ready, set, GO!” in the back yard and we’d run from one fence to the other. During his ABA therapy, Billy would race this therapist, Ms. Elyse and sometimes, I would race Billy; sometimes Ms. Elyse and I would race each other. We talked non-stop about the race.
I still wasn’t sure how it was going to work out. Despite all our rehearsal, whenever he hears “Go!” Billy is just as likely to run towards the closest available toy as he is to run towards the finish line. As usual, I debated with myself: about whether introducing him to the idea of competition at this stage was even healthy; about whether the crowds would upset him; about whether he might actually fall and get hurt.
I was ready to pull out of the whole thing. Then I got a package in the mail.
When I opened it, I pulled out a trophy. It was about 18 inches tall and engraved with Billy’s name, the date of the race, and the name of his school.
My mom and dad.
I called them, and sure enough, my mom owned up. “I wanted Billy to know,” she said, “that no matter what, he’s a winner.”
And she was right. Plus, I couldn’t back out now that they had invested in what Billy lovingly referred to as “The Statue of Liberty.”
Race day dawned bright and beautiful, and we arrived at the starting line with several minutes to spare. Several of Billy’s friends turned up, including one beautiful girl who marched right up to him and grabbed his hand in hers, as though she sensed he needed a little reassurance.
As we had practiced, Dave stood with Billy at the starting line, and Willow, his two-year-old sister, and I went to the finish. When a volunteer tried to move me out of the way, I explained that my autistic son was planning to run toward me, and if I wasn’t standing there, he was very likely to head for that little circle of unattended ponies (the pony rides hadn’t started yet). I was allowed to stay.
The boys lined up (girls raced separately). When their little arms and legs started pumping, I couldn’t believe how excited I was. I was screaming and crying and shouting for Billy.
Even from a distance, I could see he was beaming with happiness. He was looking from side to side at the crowds lining the race path. Crowds. That was something we hadn’t worked into rehearsal.
Rather than run flat-out, he kind of loped along, half-galloping, watching the other kids run in front of him. He likes to chase.
They all crossed the finish line in front of him, and I could see Billy laughing with joy. He was happy for them. And he was inches from the finish line.
And then he turned around and headed the other direction.
He was out there on his own, the race was over for everyone else, and he was running the wrong way. I started shouting for him: “Billy, this way! Come this way, baby!”
At that moment, I just wanted him to finish. The other racers in his group were already getting their trophies and medals, and the older kids were already lining up for the next race, but I so wanted Billy to cross that finish line.
Then something beautiful happened. Everyone started joining in. On both sides of the race path, kids and adults were shouting, “Come on, Billy! This way!” And waving him toward the finish line.
Laughing, he turned around. He saw me and Willow. And he started running toward us. As he crossed the finish line and leaped into my arms, there were cheers all around us.
Of course, everyone was proud of the kids who ran the fastest. I would never want to take away from their winning moments.
But at the moment Billy crossed that finish line, we all felt like winners.
Maybe you want to do something for Autism Awareness Month this April. Even better, maybe you’re still interested in helping autistic people, and the people who love them, on May 1 and beyond.
Cheer for them. Your support means the world. Step forward and offer a helping hand to the autistic people in your community. If “it takes a village to raise a child,” it takes a big, brave, new world to raise one with special needs. And that world will be a more beautiful, richer place for embracing all its unique children and adults.
Our sprint may be over, but the marathon has just begun.
Amanda Broadfoot is a freelance writer, wife and mother of two who blogs about the wildly beautiful life on the spectrum at https://www.LifeIsASpectrum.com.