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April, and Beyond

During my senior year of high school, I served as student body president, and my number one goal was to make our faculty advisor and my beloved teacher, Mr. Gerald Hill, glad that I was the one who had been elected to the position.  In late February, long after the various holiday fundraisers were over, after everyone had emptied piggy banks for the coin drive and donated toys for angel tree recipients, Mr. Hill suggested we hold a canned food drive.  “Everyone wants to give at Christmas,” he said, “but it’s like they forget that needy people are hungry year-round.”

Inspired, my fellow student government members and I organized one of the most successful food drives in North Stokes High School history (possibly due in part to the fact that the homeroom class that filled the most boxes won a pizza party).  And, thanks to Mr. Hill, we all became more aware of the ongoing needs of people that, yes, we otherwise basically ignored for eleven months of the year.

April is Autism Awareness Month, and with advocacy events and “light it up blue” festivities underway, I am reminded of the canned food drive of years ago.  My six year old son has autism, and I feel a sense of urgency, almost panic, at the realization that 1 in 45 children is on the spectrum, and that Dr. Stephanie Seneff of MIT predicts that half of all children will have autism by the year 2025.  Yet I also feel thankful that an entire month has been devoted to raising awareness of this issue.  I love that world buildings and monuments (and our front porch!) were illuminated blue on April 2, Autism Awareness Day; I love that a variety of fundraisers are being held, from 5K walks and runs to live musical performances and dinners; I love that more and more parents are willing to open up about their experiences with their children on the spectrum, and that more and more citizens in our community – even those who know very little about autism – are donating in record numbers and amounts.  After all, it is these donations that fund research, buy iPads and other communication devices for nonverbal persons, and pay to train therapy dogs to serve as companions.  Generous giving means a more comfortable present and a more promising future for our kids.

And yet, to echo the sentiment of Mr. Gerald Hill, these children on the spectrum exist all year, not just in April, and they need help all year, too.

We parents of special needs kids see the challenges our children face every day.  They struggle to communicate, to function independently, to overcome anxieties and to interact with peers.  Yet they also excel: They face each day bravely, they make connections many of us overlook, they exhibit amazingly high intelligence and leave you baffled, speechless, at what they know.  They make you want to tell the world how lucky you feel to be their mom or dad.

This April, whether you choose to donate one dollar or one hundred, whether you choose to attend an awareness event or even organize one on your own, whether you ask God occasionally to bless our children or commit to pray for them every single day – whatever you do, please continue doing it when May 1 rolls around.  And June 1.  And on into July, throughout the summer, into the fall, until it becomes part of your routine and at least one person with autism becomes part of your life.  Please believe me when I tell you this: You will be glad you did.  You will feel blessed.  You truly will see creation as if through the eyes of God, and these children with autism will appear to you just as our Heavenly Father intended: As his amazing creations, fully ready and wholly capable of drawing you closer to him.

Jessie Tucker Mitchell

Jessie Tucker Mitchell graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with Honors in English and Creative Writing. She has written dozens of articles for various publications, including Carolina Alumni Review, Our State, Business North Carolina, Cat Fancy, and She lives in Winston-Salem with her husband, Robert, and their children Elsa, Truman, Fletcher, and Archer. Fletcher has autism, so autism awareness is an important part of their lives. Jessie and Robert feel incredibly blessed to be members of Reynolda Church.

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