I have always had an interest in the unique ability to see, hear or sense something that others don’t. You know, the sixth sense. I remember digging to the bottom of the Cracker Jack box wanting desperately to find x-ray glasses (usually ended up with a sticker, but whatevah). The idea of looking at someone and seeing their skeletal system seemed like the ideal pastime. I never imagined that being able to pick up on autism would one day be my sixth sense.
I looked away and checked on my three babies and then looked around. To my left a teenaged boy sitting in a beach chair with a stick in hand. He was pulling it past his eyes over, and over, and over again. AUTISM. I watched another little boy, who appeared to be a twin, sit in the sand. He just sat there while his brother was yapping away. He had a blank stare and even though he was not as obvious as the others, I knew. AUTISM.
This happens to me all the time. I wish I could take these glasses off at times and spare myself the pain…the pain I feel for these children. I wish I could possess a power to heal them rather than just identify their disorder. I wish there weren’t so many kids to see through my autistic eye. I wish.
The Jersey shore should have been no surprise. With the current statistics, I’d be shocked if you DIDN’T see a child on the spectrum during your travels. New Jersey has nearly twice the incidence of autism as the national average.1 in 29 boys in NJ is autistic while the national rate is 1 in 54 (which is still sickening). As I traveled on vacations or simply took the kids to the park, or a restaurant, or any public place for that matter, it seemed to surround me. It engulfed my ability to enjoy the day. It robbed me of the joy I should have had. Who the hell can have a good time when your x-ray glasses are exposing the inner pain. How do I shut it off? I can’t!!!! It’s a part of me now. It’s my sixth sense — my autistic eye.
Over the years, I have learned to not only see through these glasses but also to reach out to those I watch so closely. I don’t push, but I try to strike up conversation. I try to encourage those whose insides are so visible to me. I tell them to join the revolution and to never EVER give up hope. I am turning my awareness into action. I can’t pretend it is not all around me, because it is.
A few months ago, I visited a friend in Florida. We decided to visit a water park in Naples (with six kids in tow, two on the spectrum). We swam, we laughed, we played. I watched. “Hey Goddess, do you see what I see?” I motioned to a child running up and down a concrete path, hands flapping. “And over there?” — another child spinning. “And the little boy in the pool? He’s from H’s class right?” She nodded sadly. She too possesses the autistic eye. We all do. We see the pain because we witness it first-hand each and every day. We fight back the tears as more and more kids appear through those glasses. I mourn their lost childhoods. I cry for their parents. I pray for their siblings. I SEE their pain.
A day later I was with my kids at the pool and I saw a preteen boy circle the pool over and over again. I saw the exhaustion on his mother’s face. I saw the empty stare.with the light behind it screaming to come out. I approached the mother and apologized in advance if I was overstepping my grounds. “Excuse me, how old is your son?” I asked. “He is 12. He will be 13 next month. He is autistic.” It was as if she beat me to the punch. She too had the autistic eye and knew that I sensed her pain. I explained that my son also was on the spectrum and was NOW diagnosed with Asperger’s. I explained how I was told he would probably never speak. How he would probably suffer from seizures for the rest of his life. How he would never be “normal” (whatever the F that means). I told her that I refused to give up. I kicked myself for allowing doctors to pump poison into his little body and cried about how I had failed him. Then I picked myself up and decided to not stop until I had recovered my son, and I will recover him. We are sooo close. I told her that the child who would never speak is fully conversational and excelling in school. The child who would suffer from seizures hasn’t had one since the age of 3. The child the doctors wrote off is a healthy eight-year-old thriving in every sense of the word. She then asked me a question, a question I will never forget. “ Which one is he?” Which child in the pool are you talking about because I can’t tell.” Music to my ears. A sweet melody to my heart. He was undetectable on that day. By the end of our conversation we had exchanged information and she was ready to explore her options.
So as I grow accustomed to my autistic eye, I often ask myself if I would notice these children that suffer from ASD had I not been affected by it. Would I still see it? Would my glasses be blurred by mundane things and the pain never become visible? I’m not sure it’s possible in this day and age, due to the alarming rates, to not see it, but who knows? I know that my x-ray vision will stay with me forever. I will never lose this sixth sense. I will fight for my son and all those affected by autism. The difference is that awareness is no longer good enough. I have added a seventh sense: the ability to SPEAK on behalf of those who cannot. To be their voice and pass my glasses on to those who are blind to this epidemic. Turn awareness into action and see the world through the autistic eye. Then do something about it.