Friday, April 1, 2011

In Honor of Autism Awareness Month

Since April is Autism Awareness Month we wanted to share with you an excerpt from William Stillman's The Soul of Autism: Looking Behind Labels to Unveil Spiritual Secrets of the Heart Savants.

“William Stillman continues his fascinating exploration of the myriad connections between autism and human personality. The Soul of Autism makes a strong case for why we should embrace rather than fear the differences between us.”

—Dean Hamer, Ph.D., geneticist and author of The God Gene

“I believe the world owes William Stillman a debt of gratitude for the courage it took him to research and write this book. It is filled with rare wisdom and amazing stories that will totally surprise you!”

—P.M.H. Atwater, Th.D., author of Beyond the Indigo Children

Excerpt from Chapter 1: The World Needs Autism

“With one in 166 children being diagnosed with autism, it can no longer be called rare. We have an epidemic on our hands. Every 16 minutes, another child is diagnosed with autism.”

Julie Krasnow, Indianapolis Star

The world needs autism. Of this, I am convinced. The world needs autism now more than ever. Don’t believe me? Look around...look closely and carefully. Contemplate a global awareness. Consider the call to action we’ve received in recent times by way of grand-scale, devastating natural disasters and international terrorist attacks, which drastically spiked an online “rapture” index, a Christian speedometer that measures how quickly the world is careening toward the day of reckoning. Popular culture has relaxed ethical conduct so much that films and television programming have desensitized us to sex, violence, and abusive language to the point where there is no more room to push the proverbial envelope. Motion pictures such as Saw, Wolfcreek, The Devil’s Rejects, Turistas, and Hostel have given rise to a pornographic franchise: human beings mutilating other human beings with sadistic ardor in gratuitous, graphic depictions of torture. Witness, too, the celebrity behavior we have come to condone as acceptable due to “wardrobe malfunctions,” racial rants, and sordid misconduct. Although this book was written during wartime, it is the irresponsible misbehavior of certain public figures that made top news. There is vague accountability and fewer repercussions in consequence for one’s misdeeds, which may, in fact, be rewarded post “rehab.” Further, the premise of most reality television is predicated upon lust, greed, manipulation, deceit, and the endeavor for physical beauty at all costs. Such cultural poison has anesthetized us to our own humanity.

Think people don’t emulate what they see? A recent Associated Press article speculates there’s an astounding drop in social etiquette—rudeness and amorality is on the rise. Corporate corruption has fostered employee disloyalty. E-mail has taken passive-aggressive interactions to new heights. The 2006 National Violent Crime Summit concluded that “crime is coming back” in a big way. USA Today recently cited an FBI estimate for a 94 percent increase in hate-crime attacks against persons with developmental disabilities. “Road rage” reports are a daily occurrence. “Happy slapping” has become the latest craze: someone physically accosts an unsuspecting victim while another perpetrator records the assault with a camera phone, and posts the attack online for all to see. Internet child sex predators are rampant, and child pornography has become more brutal, with the number of images depicting violent abuse rising fourfold since 2003. Americans are insulated with artificial complacency from heinous international human-rights violations perpetrated by megalomaniac dictators. Instead, self-absorbed and selfish behavior without consideration of others has become the norm, it would seem. A “messiah complex” has emerged; we have become a narcissistic society bent on gratifying our own needs because “it’s all about me.” Violators of this pursuit are perceived as rivals. And it’s autistics that, clinically, are defined in part as lacking empathy and social reciprocity!

In early 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its autism statistics from the previous tally of 1 in every 166 children (which excludes countless untabulated adults), now suggesting that the national figures are closer to 1 in every 150. But perhaps the reverse statistic signifies the greater epidemic: of every 150 individuals, 149 are “normal” or neuro-typical! We so dearly need people with autism and other differences—in their mild, unaffected manner—to lend balance to the world, and refocus us on what’s truly important. Perhaps this principle resonates most with parents who have been obliged to undergo a personal transformation as a result of their child’s diagnosis—parents who otherwise may have succumbed to the messiah complex. One mother confessed, “I think [autism] has humbled me. I think I’m a pretty good parent, and I can do that sort of stuff well; but with autism, that ego is taken down a few pegs. I think it has helped me be more accepting of people with disabilities. Not that I was a complete anti-handicapped person before, but now I think more in terms of what people can do.”

Dwindling are the days of parental shame and self-deprecating guilt, as underscored by the mother who wrote, “Autism for me was a challenge not a defeat.” A new evolution is compelling parents to reenvision their lives, to see clearly their own transcendence, and to hold greater hope for the future. This is supported by research such as the “Qualitative Investigation of Changes in the Belief Systems of Families of Children with Autism or Down Syndrome,” a document that concludes, “Although parents may grapple with lost dreams, over time positive adaptations can occur in the form of changed world views concerning life and disability, and an appreciation of the positive contributions made by children to family members and society as a whole. Parents’ experiences indicate the importance of hope and of seeing possibilities that lie ahead.”

In conjunction with the shifts observed in the introduction, one parent rejoiced and opened her heart by telling her circle of parent-friends, “I was just thinking about all the reasons I am ticked that my child is autistic and then thought, you know, if autism had not happened to our family I would not have learned so many things! So many people I would have never known! I believe it has taught me courage beyond words. As much as I hate it, it has made me a better person and better parent to my child. Anyone here feel as though you were helped on some level by this diagnosis?” She received an avalanche of glowing responses, among them were the following.

I find generally that I have a lot more patience, but what really is striking is that I am not intimidated by anything at work! People say, “Oh, this project is going to be hard” or, “This is difficult”—and inside I just laugh and think, hey, this is not difficult; everyone on this [message] board knows what difficult is. I find that I just don’t fret about a lot of trivial things at work that I used to fret about.

Autism has made me a far less selfish, far braver person. Autism has taught me to value things that I ignored in the past. Autism has shown me the better side of human nature as I observe other parents moving Heaven and Earth for their children. Autism has, in some ways, brought my husband and me even closer together. Autism has made me see what’s important in life, and it’s not the pursuit of success and money. Autism has humbled me. And that’s a good thing. Through autism, I’ve made some lifelong friendships. Autism has put my own character flaws in relief so that I can now address them. Autism has made me value my own health and what youth I have left, so I take much better care of myself. My son needs me to be healthy and energetic. Autism has made me into a far more organized person. Autism has forced me to become a better and more efficient housekeeper, so that at least some of life’s chaos is under control. Autism made me finally grow up.

Autism made me understand that I’m not in control. Autism made me feel helpless, sad, and angry! It made me look to a Higher Power to find comfort, strength, order, and hope. And after finding these things, I can’t say it was autism that made me a better person, but God—and finding Him—has been a tremendous positive! My marriage is better, I have my priorities straight, it has brought me closer to God, and I honestly think I am a much better person.

Life is what happens while you’re making other plans—I forget who said it. I definitely had other plans. But my life is beautiful anyway. And God gives me little and huge blessings in each day to remind me of His love. Cardinals, flowers, [my son’s] amazing sense of humor and intelligence, my daughter’s sense of justice and hard work, our marriage, and friends. Somehow, I’m able to keep fighting my fears and keep going.

I know God has a purpose for all of us and I feel it would almost be—dare I say—a disgrace to not use my experience to be a hope and help to others. When I see my daughter’s smile, especially on those “good days,” I feel I can do anything, and what I want to do is to help others.

I am amazed at what God can do with a life. I have learned that nothing is impossible. No one could have told me a couple of years ago that we would be here. There are still issues to address, and educational needs to fight for. But God has given me the wisdom and strength at each and every step. I have learned that I don’t have to follow anyone else’s pattern or expectations.

Autism has made me more humble. It has made me put all my faith and trust in God and remember that this life leads to the next and that [my son] is my angel here on earth. It has also helped me think “out of the box.”

Autism has taught me the meaning of true love. I know you are supposed to use that phrase for a significant other in your life, but what I feel for my niece is the truest and purest love. Autism has taught me to be selfless, it has made me see the world in a different way, and it brings compassion and spirituality to my life. It makes me appreciate the small stuff, a beautiful smile from my niece when she sees me, the way she gets a kind of smirk when you tell her she has done a good job, or when she reaches up and puts her arms around me while we sit on the couch—there is nothing better than that in life. I would not be the same person that I am without autism in my world. All these children are angels; maybe their job is to make us all into better human beings.

I feel privileged that God picked me and my husband—as he did all of you—to be parents to our kids. He knew that we would love them. The fact is that all of these children are truly amazing. They were born with some deficits, yes, but look at all the gifts they have. I look at nature and the beauty of it all because my son is obsessed with all things green and outdoors. I know that there truly is an “other side,” because my son is attached to pictures of people he has never known (and will never know in this lifetime), but yet...he knows them. I stop and actually see where I’m going instead of just walking by

"…look at all the gifts they have.” There are many autistics who are silently awaiting the opportunity to share their gifts with us. What kind of gifts? The same gifts and talents we all possess, but at higher degrees of vibration, particularly in relation to our senses. Isn’t that one way to define us all uniquely—human beings functioning at different levels of vibration? It’s the invisible equivalent of musical DNA. Consider that we may have not yet tapped unspoken wisdoms and truths unknown, not only from within ourselves, but from the inner sanctuary that dwells within the person with autism who lives in silence. And when you live in silence, you spend your time listening, processing, and very carefully observing—virtually a perpetual state of meditation. This is not so dissimilar from those of high-religious standing who intentionally undertake a vow of silence in order to attain a spiritual plane beyond what is typical. It is not unusual for people with autism to share their gifts in ways that some would define as spiritual and others would chalk up to mere coincidence. Well, coincidence may be so but, then, ultimately within the universal scheme, who do you think invented the very concept of coincidence? There is potential for us all to develop multisensory perceptive abilities in the way that a person who is blind has finely-sharpened compensatory senses.

Deepak Chopra, internationally-renown spiritual practitioner, writes of a fascinating parallel that echoes the ethereal sensations of many on the autism spectrum who experience a disconnect from that which is physical.

The five senses imprison us in ways that are unconscious and invisible. Years ago, I read accounts of congenitally blind people who were given sight overnight thanks to innovative surgery. On being exposed to light for the first time, they were often completely disoriented. They wondered why people dragged black patches around with them wherever they went (we call them shadows). If asked how big a cow was standing a hundred yards away, they’d guess 3 inches tall; stairs were frightening two-dimensional ladders climbing straight up the wall. Sometimes these bizarre perceptions were so disturbing that the newly sighted preferred to sit in the dark with their eyes closed. Aren’t we doing the same by clinging to the world of the five senses?

I have yet to meet a person with autism who has not, in some capacity, declared their desire to give back of themselves, to share their gifts, and to teach others. In their gentle way—as befits their nature—people with autism compel us to higher standards of deference and respect for humanity. Being present with the autistic individual requires us to be calm and refrain, to be silent and truly listen. What do you suppose people with autism have indicated they’re here to teach? The most salient themes of the human experience: tolerance, patience, sensitivity, compassion, and, of course, unconditional love. These themes consistently emerge in my work as a consultant no matter where I go.

We need people with autism in the numbers with which they’ve increased, especially if we’re to unite in a renaissance for what is right and true and good and kind. It is coming. And the next major human rights movement to shatter myths and tear down walls of hate will be lead by those meek of voice, but strong of will. The challenge is to counter the culture of fear that persists.

As an adult with Asperger's Syndrome, a mild "cousin" of autism, William Stillman's message of reverence and respect has touched thousands nationally through his acclaimed autism workshops and private consultations. In addition to his frequent work in California, Illinois, Maryland, Delaware, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, William Stillman has presented at national conferences such as ASA, TASH and NATTAP, as well as conferences throughout Pennsylvania. Other presentation forums have included universities, hospitals, state centers, and schools. Stillman has a B.S. in Education from Millersville University in Pennsylvania, and has worked to support people with different ways of being since 1987. He was formerly the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, Office of Developmental Program's statewide point person for children with intellectual impairment, mental health issues, and autism. Stillman is founder of the Pennsylvania Autism Self Advocacy Coalition (PASAC) which endeavored to educate and advise state and local government, law enforcement, educators and the medical community about the autism spectrum from the "inside out." He served on Pennsylvania' s Autism Task Force, and has served on the advisory boards for Autism Living and Working, The Asperger's Syndrome Alliance of Pennsylvania, and the Youth Advocate Programs' National Autism Committee. In 2007, he was appointed to the advisory board of AUTCOM, the Autism National Committee. He is formerly the coordinator for a Pennsylvania-based meeting group of individuals who use Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Stillman has also been a consultant toTemple University for the development of Youth Advocate Programs' Therapeutic Staff Support curriculum, which aspired to set the standard by which mental health workers in Pennsylvania are trained to support children and adolescents with autism and mental health issues.

Other books of interest:

The Autism Prophecies

Children of Now

Conversations with the Children of Now

Indigo Adults

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