With Autism Awareness Month entering its final week of 2016, the news wire is replete with countless stories of children with autism educating others about the realities of living with autism and we highlight three especially moving letters and speeches. Elsewhere, we take a look at the Atlanta International Airport, which is taking unprecedented steps towards making their airport more accessible for those families who have a member with autism.
First up, down in Alabama, a nine-year-old girl with autism recently gave a speech to her entire school of 450 students about living with autism as a young girl. Autism is much less commonly diagnosed in young girls so fourth-grader Keira Meikus’ speech to her school, Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School, provides a unique window into what her diagnosis means to her.
Like many of the other speeches we profile this week, Keira is quick to emphasize her similarities over what makes her different. As she says, “I have autism. I am like you. I go to school, I take tests, I watch TV, I like music and playing with my friends. I am also different than you. Some noises hurt me, I flap my hands when I get excited or overwhelmed. I don’t always make eye contact when I should, and I don’t always know when someone is being serious or joking. I can’t speak for everyone who has autism, but I’m sure most want what every typical person wants – to be accepted and to belong….”
Moving from speech to poetry, another young child with autism made waves this past week when his mother posted a poem of his about autism entitled “I Am.” The poem, which she shared with the National Autism Foundation and which in turn posted it to its social media channels, simply and effectively breaks down just what it means to live with autism. As he writes, “I am odd, I am new, I wonder if you are too. I hear voices in the air, I see you don’t, and that’s not fair.” Since posting the poem, it has received over 22,000 shares and more than 31,000 reactions.
In our third and final look into the inner lives of young children with autism, 8-year-old Mia Callot of Redding, England, recently wrote a book for her peers upon learning that 95% of kids with autism are bullied. With a younger brother named Matteo having been diagnosed with autism, Mia sought to create a way for those with autism and those without to better communicate with and understand one another. To do so, she created an after-school autism awareness club at Redding Elementary School. She even wrote a book for her fellow classmates and peers exploring the condition and explaining how to best interact with peers with autism.
Finally, looking at the practical and everyday challenges of having a child with autism, as we’ve discussed at length in the past, flying is often a high stressor for families seeking to travel during the holidays or on vacation. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport joined forces with Delta Air Lines and autism advocacy group The Arc, to create a multi-sensory room for passengers with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities, opening this month in honor of Autism Awareness Month.
While the space is small, The Arc Georgia state director, Stacey Ramirez says, “Upon entrance you may assume, ‘Oh my gosh, this is too small.’ But, for those of us who know and love someone with autism, we know that large spaces are not always the best.” Painted a soft blue to set a calming mood, the room is full of items meant to meet the sensory needs of those in need of the room, including a ball pit and a mini water sculpture. While it’s a small step, it’s a strong indication that letters and speeches from children like Keira and Mia are finally being read and listened to.