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Autism is Not an Island

The moment someone says to you, "Your child has autism" the world suddenly becomes a very lonely place.

With four little words life changes in ways that becomes inexplicable to the outsider. For awhile we may be left adrift in a sea of confusion only to wash up on an island insulated from everyone and everything else. It's easy to find yourself alone and intimidated. It's easy to find yourself stranded on Autism Island. Only this time, Ricardo Montalban and Tattoo aren't there to welcome you.

It's easy to stay on Autism Island--because it keeps you and your family insulated from everything beyond your control and far beyond the judgments and prejudices of others. It's easy to keep the world at bay from understanding you, from understanding your child, from understanding autism. It's easy but sometimes the hardest thing and the right are the same. It's easy to want to protect your child from the world but we cannot challenge prejudice in isolation. Our children need to experience the world outside the walls of home and school. Prejudices are the chains forged by ignorance to keep men apart (Countess of Blessington); it is our responsibility to bring the world of the neurotypical and the world of autism together. As Temple Grandin is so fond of saying, "The world needs all kinds of minds."

Sometimes it takes that helping hand, that gift of a shoulder to cry on, that courtesy of patience and compassion to rescue the stranded family from Autism Island. Autism doesn't happen only in the home. Autism doesn't happen only in the school. In the past, we left families adrift in the dark--relegating them to the depths of isolation and institutions. Yet autism is in our communities waiting to brought out into the light of day. Today we have the knowledge and the ability to do just that.

Autism isn't easy. It's demands more than you have to give--which can be difficult for the passerby to handle. Autism is difficult to understand, creating a world of myth and confusion about what it is and what it isn't. The month of April is just around the corner, the month dedicated to all things autism. Now is the time to stop, take a moment, and reach out to the autism community. Even if all you have to give is acceptance and patience. Now is the time to welcome the world of autism into your community, into your businesses, into your places of worship, and into your hearts and minds.

Right now, at this very moment, there is a family who is reeling from having heard those four little words. Your child has autism. Right now, at this very moment, there is a family lost and scared and without hope. Right now, at this very moment, there is a mother or a father looking at their child for the first time. Right now, at this very moment, someone is desperately seeking answers on the internet, in the bookstore, and in their heart.

Will you leave them adrift and lost or will you reach out? Will you be interested in only your own life or will you be interested in the lives of others? Dare to reach out your hand into the darkness to pull another hand into the light (N. Rice).