Benjamin Cruz, 19, Autism
Responses provided by Larry Cruz, age 58, father of Benjamin who is on the autism spectrum and is mostly non-verbal.
How would you explain autism to a child?
Autism is something that some people are born with. The brain of an autistic person is developed differently from the brain of more typical people. So autism affects how the brain works and for many autistic people it is difficult to talk, to understand other people, to socialize and make friends, and to understand things that other people easily understand. A lot of autistic people are easily scared and startled, and some are afraid to make eye contact with other people or to touch other people. But it doesn't mean they don't get lonely and don't want to be included. Sometimes loud sounds, bright lights and busy crowds can make them uncomfortable. But not all autistic people are the same, and some might have different strengths and weaknesses. So you have to be patient and do your best to understand them and make them feel comfortable.
What would you want the world to know about autism?
I would like the world to know that even though some people on the autism spectrum cannot communicate and sometimes might not seem to respond appropriately, it would be great if people can include them in conversations and social events even if they don't seem to participate actively. Most of them are very sensitive and suffer from extreme anxiety. You can put them at ease and give their families and caregivers a great amount of relief and comfort if you just extend a little kindness and understanding.
What does it feel like to live with a son on the autism spectrum?
It has been so long since I made a decision to take our situation and adapt everything and every moment to including Ben in my life that it feels natural, as if there is no added burden, and that I am so lucky that he is my son.
What brings me joy?
Many things... mostly things that include getting another person to smile and feel loved. Providing hope and motivation to others through Pushing Past Autism. Together we run to raise awareness and understanding.