For those of us parenting an individual with autism, "fortunate" is not a word we often associate with our life situation. However, in this era in which people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are thoughtfully portrayed throughout primetime television, we clearly live in a world different from that of parents a generation ago. The change that has occurred can be credited in large part to the many years of work by those parents whose children have now grown to adulthood. Although we may have a long way to go toward understanding and acceptance of all people with ASD, we are moving steadily in that direction with no intention of turning back. In this regard, we, the parents who have followed, truly are fortunate, and I, for one, am extremely grateful. This April, I would like to take the opportunity to thank all parents of adults with autism for their pioneering efforts to make the world understand not the limitations of autism, but the possibilities.
Richard Brown is an adult with autism, and his story is one of parents recognizing possibilities. This artist with autism did not pick up a paintbrush until he was 23 years old. Prior to age 22, he never drew anything but circles; however, when he asked for a marker to "draw," he was encouraged and supported, and the depth of his talent quickly became apparent. Since then, Richard's art work has raised thousands of dollars for local autism charities while raising the level of autism awareness in his community to new heights.
Someday, research will provide the answers we need for our children to fully participate in the neurotypical world. However, good research - the kind that will provide the real answers - is methodical. It builds on the knowledge, hard work, and contributions of many, including the families. The answers are not just around the corner, no matter how much we would like them to be. The momentum is there, however, and participating in research is one way we can "pay it forward" to the families who will have their own struggles as they follow us. Because of our predecessors' determination and efforts, our autistic children are learning and growing in a society that now acknowledges their existence, and at times will even whole-heartedly support and applaud their achievements along with us.