I've known Kim Stagliano for awhile now. She's a writer (represented elsewhere quite ably), a contributor to the Huffington Post, and mother of three daughters. Kim has written about her life, and her family in a way that defines "laugh and cry at the same time." I still think about her post on "The Crappy Life of an Autism Mom"...usually when I'm feeling sorry for myself.
Last spring Kim invited me to attend a panel called Writers on Autism. I wasn't expecting much; I didn't know exactly what to expect in fact. I sat in the back, I had my New Yorker secretly stashed in case I got bored. Well, I wasn't bored, I was blown away, a tired cliche for what was a paradigm shifting (another cliche) experience.
Kim read her piece about what makes a good day at her house, and we all laughed along with her. Then, Rachel Kaplan who attends Hofstra University, and has autism "spoke". Using a word board device she was able to write about her life. Because she does not communicate orally, her work was read by an associate.
Listening to Rachel describe how she felt, seeing clearly how her mind was fully engaged, lively and bright, despite not speaking, and looking very "disconnected" from the world around her (as many people with autism do), it was clear there was a very bright, very sensitive young woman "in there." Hearing her 'speak' altered my sense of what autism is.
And thank god for that because not soon after, a dear friend of mine received an autism diagnosis for her beloved four year old son. When she told me, my first reaction was 'oh damn' but I knew what to say: your son is there. He might not look you in the eye, he might look disconnected, but he's there.
I have Kim Stagliano to thank for that insight.
Kim's of the funniest people I know. She's also one of those people I most admire and respect. The world got a brief glimpse of her here on Good Morning America last week.
You can read her blog here.
But mostly you can just say thanks to Kim by understanding that autism doesn't equal retarded, and it doesn't equal the end of the world. Her three "perfectly imperfect perfect" daughters are definitive proof of that.