April is Autism Awareness month and while I do suppose I think about it more often when awareness is being promoted nationally.... Autism is something very close to me and something I think of throughout the entire year. My cousin was born the day after my birthday. I was a teenager when she was born so I have always felt more like an aunt than a cousin. Amber was a cheerful and bright-eyed baby, who I am pretty sure liked me best of all.

At only a few years old Amber was diagnosed with Autism. Her parents' world changed forever. They quickly realized that nothing would ever be easy for their little girl... she would have to work hard for every milestone she achieved. The things that come easily for most kids are difficult for Amber. Despite the heartache they felt for the things they knew she may never be able to experience, her parents moved forward. They got her speech therapists, technological aids, and horse therapy. Sometimes they have to make special arrangements or avoid certain events..... some days the struggles are overwhelming... but one thing has always been constant for Amber.... she is blessed with a family that loves her and works hard every day to help her find her place in the world.

When I think about Autism I think about Amber. I don't see the girl who can't go bowling because it overwhelms her or the kid who sometimes gets very loud during a basketball game or needs to stand, sit, stand, sit, and maybe even walk around during dinner. What I see when I picture Autism is the little girl I held in my arms as a baby.... the silly kid who LOVED to play patty cake... the young lady riding a horse with grace and control.

Yes, we need to raise awareness so we can increase research but we also have to raise understanding. People with Autism ....Or with any disability or disorder...... Need us to understand that there is more to them than just the label. While it is important to understand the challenges that come with things such as Autism, is extremely important that we remember the little girl inside Autism..... The little boy inside cerebral palsy.... The father inside multiple sclerosis. Its only human for people to see the disability... The side effects.... The differences... But I challenge you to make a heartfelt effort to get to know the person inside. Both your life and their life will be richer because you did.