I’m obviously obsessed with superheroes. In my defense, the obsession goes beyond just collecting comics in a basement and arguing on the internet. I’ve made an academic career out of the subject. Ever since I was a child, superheroes taught me what was important in life and how to respond to the many challenges that would come my way. They’re designed for that purpose and can play into a person’s spiritual or philosophical beliefs to strengthen their character and resolve. As I grew and faced actual trauma in life, my heroes never let me down. Eventually I began to appreciate superhero characteristics in some of the people around me as well. Today I want to write about one of my biggest real life heroes, my daughter Alyssa.
At two years of age, Alyssa was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, and we suspect she’s showing signs of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder as well. She’s four years old now. She too loves superheroes—and Disney princesses, and Play-Doh and apple and carrot smoothies. Though she has her share of anxieties and struggles, I can honestly say I’ve never known a happier little girl.
Today is Autism Awareness Day, a day to educate and break down stereotypes about a condition that now affects one in 68 children. The notion I’d like to dispel is that these children are somehow less fortunate in life. Every case of Autism is different, and children can suffer to varying degrees from the way their brains interact with the world around them. But Alyssa has shown me that though many would think of her as disabled, she is in fact super-powered.
Even on her worst days, she sees the world around her with a wonder and intensity that I can only imagine. Like Wonder Woman, she has vision. Even in the midst of a meltdown, Alyssa immediately steals the hearts of everyone she meets. Like Captain America, she has influence. Though she may be developmentally behind in some areas, she can already read, memorize the content of YouTube videos, and navigate almost any electronic device after a moment’s use. Like Batman or Iron Man, she’s a quick study. In short, for every difficulty she endures, she has depths of strength and ability. Like any superhero, there’s much more to Alyssa than her beautiful, wide-eyed smile.
The same can be said, in individual ways, of any person with Autism. Superheroes are all around us. On this Autism Awareness Day, take a little time to read up on the subject. If you have someone touched by Autism in your life, take a moment to talk to them. Ask questions and appreciate the abilities and differences within the human brain that give each of us heroic capability. Alyssa expands my horizons and gives me a new joy and appreciation of the intricacies in life. Somebody somewhere is waiting to do the same for you, if you let them.