Friday, November 27, 2009

Autism is on the rise, and researchers do not have a solid answer regarding the cause or cure for it. In 1984, I lived in Washington, D.C. with my former husband. Our second son, is now an adult at twenty four years old and living with his peers, was diagnosed with Autism. It was the first time I had ever heard the word 'autistic." For readers who are unfamiliar with the term, it is a Developmental Disorder, often confused with Mental Retardation. Raising an autistic child was very challenging, but I never viewed him as being a burden. Over the years he had the best care possible.

My son was born at Howard University Hospital and when we moved to suburban Maryland, outside of Washington, D.C., we learned that the state had sophisticated techniques for dealing with autistic people. After my long term relationship with my husband ended, I tried to continue raising our son alone. What a challenge!! After much prayer, I realized I could not do it alone. He needed more than his mother in his life. I found an "Old School" social worker, (they are the best ones), to assist me in finding a place that was conducive to his life. We found it after many home tours and much crying on his mother's part. But you know what I learned?

He was praying for that too. Oh yeah. Once he was in his new home his chest was ALL stuck out. And when he felt that I overstayed my visits he let me know in his own gentle way. He simply retrieved my purse and handed to me. Then he got my coat and gently pushed the middle of my back towards the door. I got the message. I could have stuck my head in the sand and felt sorry for myself. But the next few months God used me to talk to the community about raising autistic children. I ended up on a popular tv show in Atlanta. Many viewers called me for weeks after that. They were mothers who had discovered their baby was autistic and was overwhelmed by what to expect. I heard from ministers, guardians, and special education teachers.The city of Atlanta was very nervous when the media announced that there was a missing autistic boy. He had been missing for five days, and ofcourse we all feared the worst. The mother had to have been going out of her mind. By some great miracle he was discovered in an empty house clear on the other side of town in good condition, and very much alive. He had sustained himself on staples (old), left by a previous tenant.

The mother called me and talked with me after the show. We just don't know what difference our lives make. If there is a hardship we are living through, maybe if we share it, we can change lives. Now that my friends, is very liberating.

Joyce Barnet is a poet and writer living in Atlanta.

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