So this past weekend I took my two boys on a "mom date" to the mall. It is fun to watch them interact with one another, shop for fun things, ask for everything lol, and just enjoy walking and talking together. Many years ago this was not on option for our family. My son, Griffin, is 14 and has high functioning autism. He is the reason behind "The Griffin Promise" (check out my personal bio under the team page for more information).
While shopping we ventured into a new store called Box Lunch which has a lot of Disney and other television and movie items. We came across this book from Sesame Street called "We're Amazing 1,2,3!" which is a story about friendship and autism. Being the director of an autism clinic I knew it was a must read. I grabbed the book from the shelf and Griffin stated, "I know that one, It has Julia and she has autism. Who else has autism?". Ok people, what you have to understand here is that Griffin knows all about our clinic. He has heard his story many times at speaking events. Yet whenever the subject of autism comes up he usually says "we are not talking about that right now". I have never taken this to mean that he thinks of it as a bad thing, but more that he doesn't need that to define who he is. Elephants are his only definition as far as he is concerned.
You can imagine my surprise at not knowing exactly what he was looking for in an answer. "Who has autism?"..... I decided to play it cool and just name a good friend of his who also has autism. He responded with another name "and _______ from school" and I shook my head in agreement. Then out of nowhere Griffin says "and me".
I stood there for a moment in shock, not sure if he wanted me to respond or if he was looking for a reaction. Then I just said "yeah and other kids from camp and school." Griffin just smiled, turned and walked away to keep shopping.
While this may not be a big moment for some families, it was huge for ours. Griffin not only acknowledged that he has autism or that it is a part of him, he also was completely fine with it. And that is how it should be I thought. It is only one part of the amazing individual that makes up Griffin. He has learned from his mother, his brother and sister, his grandparents, his aunt, his friends, and all his supporters that having autism isn't something that has to be looked at as negative, something to be ashamed of, or even something to hide. It is just a piece of what makes up Griffin and he is ok with that.
Since our trip to the mall I have had the opportunity to share this book with family and coworkers. I happily teach that autism looks different in every individual because it is the "social" side of things and every person is unique. In this book, Elmo teaches his friend Abby about his other friend Julia. As they learn about each other and why we each do things differently, it helps their friendship grow. I highly recommend that we all learn to be open to the differences in others and help build friendships along the way.
-Lori Frederick, Executive Director and Griffin's Mom