Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Of Shades and Sparks

When people whom are not in my life every day or whom do not know me and my family very well find out that my children have Autism - the immediate images that they conjure are generally of "Rain Main" - however, he was a fairly severe case of Autism. "Autism" in itself is not a diagnosis, because "Autism" is an umbrella term, like many things in our lives: Meat, alcohol, Christian, Holidays, colors, shoes, chocolate etc...

In fact, I'm going to  relate Autism to a color palatte... only because I like to design things and hopefully it will help prove my point.

Think of the human brain as having a color. If we go to, say "Benjamin Moore" to pick out a paint color, you can imagine how many colors there are to choose from, so first we start with a very very broad perspective. If we look at "all" the colors generalized, we might see something like this:

Each color may be thought of as a generalized view of how someone's brain works, how how they think. Someone might have a red brain or a blue brain and can see themselves clearly on this view, or at least the general area where they fit.

Once you figure out what color your brain is it tells you a little bit about yourself. We're always doing this with various tests, IQ, personality etc etc -  how many times has your boss sent you on a team building exercise that has these types of things in  it? As humans, it helps us to quickly understand something if we can classify it, and we do so with just about everything - ourselves, others and things! Once we classify something generally we decide if we want to learn more, or move on. For instance - a vegan, once they classify something as a meat, will 'toss it' - they don't want to know more because its not useful to them. It says MEAT on it and they look, blink, and keep walking. This is a pretty common response to a generalized classification system that we give EVERYTHING.

So, what does this have to do with my explanation on Autism? When you say the word "Autism", the knee jerk reaction is to think "Rain Man". That's the same as the Vegan's reaction to the word "Meat". (I'm not picking on vegan's - I could have used "A dog's reaction to the word "bacon" because they don't care what kind of bacon it is, if its bacon, they want it.)

A woman painting a room asks her husband "What color should we paint it?" and he says "green".She goes down to Benjamin Moore to buy the paint and she says "I want to paint my room green" and they say "Okay, which green?" and give her this:
Normally, for her green is green. It may come in light green, dark green but she's never really thought about how many different shades of green there are. Our brain does this all the time - it generalizes and we don't realize that we do until we take a closer look. We don't take a closer look until it affects us, until we need to.

If you went to the doctor, and he told you that your child's brain was green - think like a painter, a designer, and ask "What shade of green?" - Autism has many many shades.

Generally when we see puzzle piece pictures, we see them in many colors. It tries to reiterate the "spectrum" by showing colors in the rainbow and the diversity by showing the many different colors there are -

However, our brains don't see it that way. We see Autism as"Green". Just like Vegans see "Meat". If we want to know more, its up to us. Green can be just green, or it can be like this:

By taking notice, we can learn that Autism can actually be more of a  subtle "minced onion" green (1A), a more encompassing green like "central park" green (5C), or a full on lush green like "vine green" (6D).

This is the umbrella that most people see when they are told that their child has Autism.

Parents are generally told "Pervasive Development Disorder" or "Autism" long before their child is fully diagnosed as their particular shade of the spectrum. Its a pretty good literal translation of an umbrella term and helped me understand why my child was classified as ASD generalized - and where she fit among the others. That's a pretty good clinical sort of explanation.

Once I got to know more about Autism, the parents and families that are affected by it, the less the "umbrella" seemed to fit.. The more I needed to define further.

All this said, my daughters both have Autism Spectrum Disorder - Under the umbrella, Winnie is classified as Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not otherwise specified, and Maggie is classified as Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Autistic Disorder.

But for me, and anyone that knows us - Winnie is a lovely shade of Richmond Green (5D) and Maggie is a bright and funky Garland Green (3C)! I'm not sure where Bill Sackter (aka "Rain Man") is in the shade of things, but perhaps he was a thought provoking Forest Hills Green (6C).

So much we miss without the spark - which is why I'm constantly out there with my "autism candle" of awareness - trying to light the spark for someone else - the spark of desire to learn more. I wonder what other shades of life there are that we're missing!