Leo turned twelve yesterday.
By the end of this summer, it will be ten full years since his diagnosis with ASD.
It was an incredible opportunity to sit back and watch my entire family busy in the backyard, hanging streamers and setting out the sprinkler for his younger siblings and cousins; my dad on the barbecue and my sister setting up arts and crafts. My parents flew in from out of town, and we all cleared our schedule for a three-day celebration. He is definitely one to be celebrated, that child, and it made me think:
I wonder what kind of family we would be if he hadn’t been diagnosed with autism.
Please don’t misunderstand – I’m not suggesting we would not have been close; I’m sure we would have. But there is no doubt in my mind that my nephew brought to us a completely different level of consciousness. He’s changed each of us individually and defined our family.
I personally, have been impacted because of the time I’ve spent with him – being alongside him both as his auntie and as his aide at school has colored the way I look at everything.
And it’s not just me.
It’s been amazing to watch a community sprout up around him and see the response in teachers, kids, and congregants of his synagogue. It’s been so obvious to me over the years which people have the confidence to pause their own agenda to consider his. It’s been the best part of my life at school with him – seeing him move people and make them better.
To me, this is active inclusion, understanding, progress, and enlightenment; this is what drives change from the inside out and carves out a community. That would make Leo and people like him at the center of it. The center and driving force behind the change.
I remember reading a quote by Mahatma Ghandi who said:
“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”
A lot of people may consider people with autism to be one of these weaker members, but I actually see Leo (and people like him) as the opposite. He struggles and faces his fears every minute of every day; he is deliberate and mindful and relentlessly honest with himself and with others.
It is because of him that we can all understand what real connection is, moment to moment – without taking things for granted. I am consistently astounded by his daily courage and ability to be open-hearted in a world that isn’t always as exceptional as he is.
I can’t think of a stronger person than that.