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Autistic children are a gift to be cherished

LOVE, and how much they give us. That's what we parents of autistic children adore about them.

I'm fed up with the stereotype of the inhuman child staring into space. ASD (autism spectrum disorder) children are odd, but they know how to love.

In the run-up to World Autism Awareness Day on Wednesday, I've been on a mission to celebrate the differences that make people with ASD special.

I asked parents in my group, Open Spectrum in Dundrum, to tell me what they loved about their ASD kids. Within minutes the internet exploded with love.

"The thing I love most about Roan is the squeezy cuddles he only saves for Mammy", said one message.

Long after other kids have started being self-conscious about showing parents love in public, ASD kids go on.

A mam with two kids with autism and ADHD, Gavin (5) and Harry (8), loves when the family are together.

"We take great comfort just from being in the same room," she said.

The same mam celebrated the fact that ASD kids don't know how to lie. "If we had politicians with autism," she said, "we'd have a more open and fair society."

This reminds me of one of my favourite moments with my son Tom (12), when he looked up at a poster of a repulsive politician and said: "That guy's a jerk."

Tom can talk like a poet because he doesn't conform to anyone else's rules. In his bed the other night he curled up and said: "I'm snug as an egg in a bird's nest."


You never know what he'll say next. "Three things I hate," he announced one night at dinner. "1. School. 2. Homework. 3. Herons."

He misses the big picture, but his attention to detail is such that at the age of four he looked at the surge of water going over the Dodder weir and commented that it looked like the pleats on the side of a whale's mouth.

No wonder one Open Spectrum mam said of her unnamed child: "He's given me a new pair of eyes."

"I love their courage," said Gavin and Harry's Mam. "Everyday situations can be a nightmare for children with autism, yet they continue to try their best and face their fears."

Sometimes they help us face our fears. Kian's mammy loves his total recall and said he would help them find their way home if they got lost in the woods.

"I love Lucy's truth and innocence," said another mother. "I sometimes think she lives in a better world than the one we encourage her to join."

"She makes life interesting," said the mother of Eleanor (12), and that's certainly true of Tom.

You could be doing the dishes and hearing the Irish homework when Tom rushes in and shouts: "Are mammoths extinct? How did they get extinct? Aren't they never coming back?"

I can't imagine how boring life would be without these curveball questions. That just means we have adapted to our strange life, as people do.

No one's saying life's easy for parents of ASD children or ASD people themselves.

But it doesn't help that people still try to see it as an "illness" caused by the MMR, fluoride in the water, pesticides in vegetables or a government that doesn't stump up enough money for treatment.

Autism is no more an illness than red hair. It's who you are, who they are.

If we do one thing for Autism Day, let's celebrate their difference, not fight it.