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Understanding Autism: Lessons from a Parent and Director

Story written by Sarah Gough, Play for Peace Director.

April is a month marked by spring's full bloom and a brighter awareness of the beautiful spectrum of human diversity, thanks to Autism Awareness Day. Today, I share my journey, not just as the director of Play for Peace but as a parent whose life has been touched and transformed by autism.

Listening Beyond Eye Contact

One of the first, most profound lessons I learned as a parent to an autistic child was about communication. The conventional wisdom that eye contact equals attention was quickly dispelled. My child taught me that listening and understanding aren't always signaled by direct gaze. People absorb, process, and engage with the world in their own unique way. This revelation was a window into a different kind of connection, one that doesn't rely on traditional cues but is rich with its own forms of communication.

Embracing Stimming as Expression and Self-Regulation

Stimming, or self-stimulatory behaviors, often misunderstood, became a self-care practice I learned to understand and respect. These repetitive movements or sounds are not a disruption but a necessity; they're a way for my child to express themselves, regulate emotions, and navigate the sensory experiences of their environment. Recognizing the value and purpose of stimming has taught me to see beyond societal norms and appreciate the diverse ways individuals find comfort and joy.

Valuing Processing Time

Patience has always been a virtue, but in the context of autism, it's a lifeline. I've learned to allow for longer processing times, understanding that this space is not empty but filled with the cognitive efforts of making sense of information. This waiting is an act of love and respect, acknowledging the inner workings of an autistic mind.

The Ripple Effect of Understanding

These insights have reshaped not only my relationship with my child but also how I lead Play for Peace. They underscore the importance of creating spaces that honor all ways of being and interacting. Autism Awareness Day is more than a date on the calendar; it's a reminder of the ongoing need for understanding, acceptance, and advocacy.

Our journey with autism is a testament to the beauty of human diversity. It's taught me that love doesn't just speak one language, and connection isn't confined to conventional expressions. In sharing our story, I hope to encourage a deeper empathy and a broader acceptance, where differences are not just tolerated but celebrated.

As we mark Autism Awareness Day, let's pledge to carry forward these lessons. Let's commit to listening deeper, learning more, and loving better. Because understanding doesn't just change lives—it enriches them, weaving a richer tapestry of human experience for us all.

#AutismAwareness #PlayForPeace #UnderstandingStartsWithUs