World Autism Awareness Month | Autism Speaks

Every April Autism Speaks celebrates World Autism Month, beginning with the United Nations-sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day on April 2. This year marks the 16th annual World Autism Awareness Day. This year, we are committed to standing together to make a world of a difference for people on the spectrum. BRIDGE had a chance to interview our very own, Mike Neely, QA and Configuration Specialist about why Autism awareness is important to him and his son, Micah.
What is your son’s name?  
Micah, he will be 7 on April 7th.
How will you celebrate his birthday?  
We’ll have a small dinner and take him to Jump Zone.
What kind of activities does Micah enjoy?  
Micah is into technology, loves his tablet, and is big on comparing things (just like his dad).  He recently compared the animated version of the Lion King to the recent real-life version.  He’s just like me.
What is Micah’s diagnosis:  
He is on the spectrum, but it’s not as severe as others.  Some kids don’t like to be touched or loud noises.  Micah loves to cuddle.  He is often more happy than sad.  He likes to engage but he only uses a few words, but he’s starting to get better and repeat more words. He does recognize danger, and is very aware of his surroundings.  He knows when he’s in trouble and is aware of his actions.

How do you bring awareness to family and friends?
We participate in the Autism Walk – it’s in Soldier Field but it can be overstimulating for Micah. We may take him and leave if he gets over stimulated himself.

A question Mike gets often is how do you know when he is sad if he doesn’t speak?  
I’m his father and I know; he can communicate in other ways.  He can make noises and squeeze my hand to let me know it’s time to go.  

What do you want your fellow colleagues to know about Autism?  
I just want people to understand that because kids have autism, it doesn’t make them different from other kids.  Just because Micah doesn’t speak as much as other children not on the spectrum, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have feelings. Pay attention to the signs. Speaking is not the only way to communicate, body language speaks volumes.  They are still kids, and want to be treated as such. Micah knows more than you think he knows, he surprises me every day.  

What is a positive outcome of Autism?
Autism has made Micah more independent.  He is very self-aware and I’m proud of him for that.  He understands that he must communicate with us differently to let us know what he wants. For Example, he’ll see a pan on the stove, and he’ll take his favorite food from the fridge and give it to me to cook without speaking. He understands the barrier, so he has become more independent to do things himself.  If he wants to go outside, he’ll get dressed and grab dad’s hand to go outside.

What is your biggest fear?
People often think it’s that I’ll have to raise Micah forever. That is the least of my worries.  I’m not scared, I’m a parent until I’m no longer here. My biggest fear is who will take care of him like I do when I’m gone? I’m currently making efforts to set up funds for him to assist for his care in the future. I don’t want my son to go through being treated badly because of his disability.