Friday, June 15, 2012

The Qualifier

Last week I was at physical therapy, and my therapist asked me what plans I had for the weekend. I told him I was taking my daughter to a program at the Museum of Fine Arts, and she was really excited. He asked me what she would do, and I explained that the kids would be shown certain paintings, and then do a craft based on them. How she asked to bring a sketch pad, so we could stay after and see all the art, and she could do some drawing of her own. How art is something she truly loves.

I didn't tell him that it is a program for kids diagnosed with Autism.

It's easy to say I didn't mention the Autism part because I don't know him very well. The truth is, this is the second class Katie will attend, and in my everyday conversations with people I do know, I don't always label it, either. If I do, I stress how much Katie loves art, and is actually interested in the pieces. I want her love for it to be what shines through.

But, am I a bad parent for leaving the big "A" out?

Here's the thing: This is something Katie really does enjoy. She loves the museum, and she loves this program. Yes, it is for kids with Autism, so they can access the art in a more comfortable way, with fewer people than a regular class, and guides who understand kids with this diagnosis. But, we aren't doing it just because it's a program for kids on the Spectrum. We are doing it because it is something important to her.

Those unfamiliar with "Autism" would hear the word and concentrate on that. Pull up whatever image they have in their mind, and automatically see my daughter as that. I fear it would get in the way of them understanding Katie as a person. As a lover of art. It would put her into the role of an autistic kid whose mom is bringing her to a special needs program. Katie, the person, would be lost.

It's ironic, all the years we spent fighting for a diagnosis and treatment. How I clung to the label for so long, because it got my girl what she needed. Now I am desperate to not have it define her. Autism will always be a part of her, but just a part. She is now, and will continue to become, so much more than her diagnosis. Those other parts are just as important, if not more. Autism isn't the first thing I want people to know about her. I don't want their stereotypes to get in the way of what a gorgeous, brilliant, loving, talented person she is. I want people to know Katie for Katie, and in doing so change their perceptions.

That is awareness to me. Allowing people to know my daughter, and realize Autism isn't just Rainman, or whatever TV character happens to be diagnosed with it this week. As she gets older, she can decide what role she wants Autism to play in her life, but for now it's just important that she be seen as a kid who loves art. No qualifier needed.

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Jen is the mother of two wonderful kids, Katie, who is 8, and Ben, who is 5. She blogs at Still Looking Up, about special needs parenting, and everyday life. You can follow her on Twitter @JenTroester and on Facebook.

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