“If you were lucky enough to be born different, then don’t try to be like everyone else.” — Unknown Author

Every child and adult on the autism spectrum faces challenges that few people can truly comprehend. When I was a child, kids with autism were simply considered strange, weird and/or retarded. These children had few friends and were somewhat ostracized at school.

Today, our community, including our children, knows much more about autism and its affects. While that is a better situation compared to the 1980s, autistic children are still considered to be different.

Good.

While many people share similar character attributes, character defects, personalities, and other unique behavioral patterns, each of us is a unique person who God created for a purpose. Without those differences, life would be quite boring. Without diverse people and minds, the United States would not be the dominant military, economic and peacekeeping force that we see today.

Almost everyone knows someone with autism. Here are eight characteristics that some autistic children exhibit:

1. Autistic children behave in ways that may seem strange to us. You may wonder why they do these things. But, even if you asked them, they might not be able to explain. In fact, particularly the children on the low end of the autism spectrum do not speak at all.

2. Autism is something you are born with. It’s not something that you can catch from others, vaccines, or any other outside source.

3. When people have autism, it affects the way their brain works and makes them behave or react differently from others. They may look the same as everyone else on the outside, but inside they can feel like everyone around them is speaking a different language or is from a different planet.

4. People with autism may find crowds or loud noises to be very frightening. They may repeat the same words over and over and over again and move their bodies in ways that looks strange to you.

5. When you talk to a person with autism, they may not look at you in the eyes. You may wonder if they are hearing what you are saying.

6. Even small changes can be very upsetting to them. That is why they may always want to sit in the same chair, or read the same book, or use the same cup. These habits help people with autism feel safer and more able to deal with all the things they are feeling. Bigger changes, like moving from one home to another home, can be extremely difficult for autistic children.

7. When people have autism, it can be hard for them to understand jokes or use their imagination to play games with others. Being with more than one person at a time may be upsetting in many situations and make it difficult to make friends.

8. Many people across the nation with autism have amazing talents and skills. They may be good at music or painting or remembering things. They may be really good at math and understanding computer programs or fixing things. My oldest son can put together a puzzle within minutes. This happens without the instructions.

People with autism are not bad, behaving incorrectly, nor unintelligent. In fact, there have been many people with autism who have contributed tremendous benefits to society. A small sample of these individuals include Jerry Seinfeld, Tim Burton, Dan Aykroyd, Darrell Hanna, Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Lewis Carroll, Bobby Fischer, Bill Gates, Thomas Jefferson, Steve Jobs, Michelangelo, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Andy Warhol.

There are many success stories about how an autistic child becomes a productive adult. An autistic adult has a much better chance of becoming independent if he or she receives treatment before the age of four. Love and support from those around them can make people with autism feel a little happier and safer each day.

Please consider joining the West Georgia Autism Foundation and spreading this information further into the community. The first step in grappling the challenges that autism presents is making our community aware or of the critical importance of addressing autism today.

Jason Swindle is a Carrollton attorney.

Jason Swindle is a Carrollton attorney.