April 30. The last day of Autism Awareness Month. The last hurrah, although let's be honest, the wider world didn't really notice all that much and probably didn't learn all that much, either.

The truth is that autism awareness happens at the individual level every time we, as parents, take our autistic children out and have them interact with the world. For autistic people, it happens every time they are out in public and self-disclose, but also when they don't, when the people they interact with don't know they have autism, or as they get to be known by others, when that label fades into the background, and they are just seen as uniquely themselves, perfect as they are.

My son has autism. He has an intellectual disability that creates greater obstacles, though, and these two things are separate--he had a stroke that damaged his left thalamus. He also has a blood clotting disorder. All three of these things are huge parts of him, although you wouldn't necessarily know it by looking at him.

If you look at him, if you interact with him, if you converse with him, you see a sweet young man with an infectious smile, a sense of humor, a robust laugh, and an intense desire to be of help. You see a young man who loves video games, Yu-gi-oh, Pokemon, and anime and being right. You see a young man who may not be able to spell or write with any kind of ease, but who is smart enough to figure out how to record his voice on his phone and text me the grocery list by embedding those audio files in the text. Pretty damn awesome, if you ask me. 

You see a young man who loves animals and willingly cares not just for the six cats here, but for my mother's cats and birds. You see a young man who's never too busy to sit down and hold and love on an animal or spend an hour talking to the parrots. You see a young man who loves to read and devours books, but often needs help straightening out his perception of the book because he didn't know enough of the words so that it's confused him and who misses all inferences. You see a young man who hands those books over to his mother to read after he has finished because he's eager to discuss the books for hours. 

You see a young man who's learned to cook, and who delights in concocting new dishes and who takes a fierce pride in successfully navigating a store on his own while his mama waits in the car, sometimes on the phone with him and the rest of the time with her fingers crossed. You see a young man who will be 23 this year who rarely focuses on what he can't do and who is continuing to grow and learn and develop skills.

My Lily has autism, too. Tomorrow we'll go to the neuropsychologist for the results and resulting decisions as to labels. She's struggled this year in school, and we decided it was time for her to be re-evaluatued to see if we were doing everything we could for her. She has a 504 plan now (like an IEP, but for when academics aren't really a problem and other services aren't needed), and that has taken some of the struggle out of the year, but not enough.

If you see her, you see bubbly, you see vibrancy, you see a sweet girl whose body is growing faster than her mind, but whose mind is incredible, capable of insights and the retaining of information that will blow you away, but who also has serious information and skill gaps that always leave you surprised. You see a girl who is super-easily distracted and who often gets lost in her own world, who loves SpongeBob beyond all else, but also collects everything else. You see a girl who is stubborn, persistent and fierce in her beliefs. She is an amazing young lady.

And then there's Rosie, sweet Rosie whose "Mama!" touches my heart every time I hear it. My Rosie has autism, much like her brother's version. Her kisses are still super rare, so whenever I get one, I know I've been blessed. Her hugs are given freely and often. She's the quietest of the bunch, but she can shreek louder than anyone I've ever known.

She's smart, friendly, and always complimentary to others. She's delighted to have made a second friend this year, and spent last week counting down the days till she went to her friend's birthday party. Making friends is hard for her because she has a hard time in continuing a conversation. She has a fabulous skill, when she either doesn't understand or doesn't want to answer, of pretending the other person never said anything at all. There's no pause, no gap, just a sweet little smile on her face as she goes on about what she wants to talk about. Don't underestimate her. She has depths to her, unfathomable depths containing a multitude of surprises. She will own the world one day.

Each and every day, our autistic children, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances spread autism awareness just by being themselves and being out in the wider world.