Laura

“Do you want me to come in with you while you get your haircut?”
“No,” replied my 24-year-old son Matthew. “I want the barber to think I drove here by myself.”

When I suggest that he remove the junior sheriff sticker from his t-shirt before he goes in, he refuses.

“I want him to think I take care of bad guys.”

Matthew is autistic, and wants to be a regular guy in the worst way. But his efforts are hampered by social awkwardness that, try as we have, we can’t train out of him. Earlier in the day, we had been to the dentist, where Matthew read The Care Bears Go to the Dentist while waiting for his turn. To look at his face, you would think he was reading Paradise Lost. I sat next to him with a straight face while people in the packed waiting room stifled laughter. Most of them have seen Matthew around town and wondered about him. They have seen him at the skateboard store, pretending he works there, and at the hardware store with his large hands wrapped around a bottle of weed killer, studying the label earnestly. They have seen him pushing a gas-powered lawnmower around town with a weed whacker and a leaf blower stacked on top, grinning widely, and they have seen me driving around anxiously looking for him when he wandered away.

What is with that guy?

The dentist was running late, and Matthew started rocking irritably. Just then a young woman looked up from her magazine and smiled.

“Matthew? Hi! It’s me, Marissa. We went to Middle School together. I hate waiting, too. Let me see your book…”

I caught her eye and mouthed the words “Thank you,” and she winked back. It was a perfect moment and I will never forget it.

I learned later that Marissa and some friends from work were on an “Autism Speaks” walk team.

She understood.

I could not have imagined such kindness when Matthew was first diagnosed with autism years ago. Our family was devastated, and we had no idea what to do. Little was known about autism, and the only resource I could find was the encyclopedia, which painted a grim picture of my beautiful first born son’s future. My husband and I searched tirelessly and futilely for treatments that would cure our son “in time for kindergarten”. In the years that followed, I smiled bravely thorough Matthew’s public tantrums, therapy appointments and teachers meetings. I even had a closet full of gifts to give neighbors and teachers who complained about Matthew’s  impulsive, aggressive and injurious behavior. “If he were MY child,” they would say, shaking their heads.  The first time Matthew’s younger brother Andy caught me crying after one of these episodes, he looked up at me, his brows furrowed with worry.

“Are you OK, Mommy?  Do you want a sip of my apple juice?”

He was just three years old, and I worried about how having a brother with autism would affect him. By the time Andy was 5, I saw his playmates at the park teasing him about his brother’s hand flapping, and I flew to his side to defend him.

“He has a brain problem,” Andy was explaining to them cheerfully, “He can’t help it.”

The boys nodded anxiously and backed away.

“Andy,” I said with a lump in my throat, “I’m so proud of you. That was very loyal.”

“Thank you,” he said, “I’m proud of you, too.”

It wasn’t long, though, until the novelty of educating his peers wore off.

“Autism is so hard to explain,” he sighed, “and I feel like I’m the only one in the whole school who knows anything about it. When I tell kids that it has to do with the Matthew’s brain works, they just call him a retard.”

My youngest son, John, son years Matthew’s junior, was teased about his big brother’s peculiarities as well.

“It’s not easy for Matthew,” I once overheard him telling some friends, “so give him a break.”

Matthew’s adolescent years were especially hard, and Andy John prided themselves for being able to calm Matthew down when he was upset, and making him laugh through his frustrations.

“We’ve got him,” they would say when Matthew climbed off the yellow school bus in tears. The three would go out to the mulberry tree in the back and sit on opposite branches until they got Matthew to smile. Afterward, each would flash me a victorious smile, and I’d put my hand over my heart in reply.

President Obama, I owe tremendous gratitude to Autism Speaks for their research into the science of autism. I’m grateful for their comprehensive resource guide that has helped families like mine get the help they need.

But MOST of all, I am grateful to Autism Speaks for increasing autism awareness dramatically, giving Matthew the opportunity to be a part of our community, of which he is an important and cherished part.

Still, so much more needs to be done. Matthew is an adult now, and wants to work, but few understand his needs and challenges. Few are trained to give him the give him the guidance that he needs in the workplace. And, Mr. President, Matthew is lonely. Just last week, someone called him a “weirdo”.. “I’m not a weirdo,” he said “I’m just a regular guy like my brothers!”

A regular guy with challenges that few understand.

Please Mr. President, light the White House blue on April 2nd, the Fourth Annual World Autism Awareness Day.

Light it up for Matthew’s younger brothers Andy and John, whose love, patience and good humor towards their autistic brother has been a shining example to their peers.

Light it up for our community. They have learned to love and accept Matthew, quirks and all, are learning to understand and tolerate the differences in others.

Light it up for those who still don’t understand, but would be so much kinder if they did.

But most of all, light it up for Matthew. He wants so desperately to be a regular guy. And I admire him for trying.

With Gratitude,

Laura Shumaker

49 Comments »

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  1. Please this is so important to so many. If it is done for other events and holidays why not this!! SOOO IMPORTANT!! PLEASE as the mother of 2 children with Autism and the reality that NH is taking away services to our disabled .. make it know you hear us!! Let us know you care!!

  2. Thank you. Although my son has CP and Epilepsy, he cannot talk. I can relate to every aspect of this story including the other children in the family taking care of him. Stay strong and know that you and your family are not alone

  3. I know how hard it is to have a sibling dealing with the social awkwardness of Autism. It is truly sad that more people cannot be understanding and receptive. I will be not only surprised, but absolutely ecstatic for President Obama to light up the White House! I think it would help raise awareness tenfold.

  4. One of the reasons I voted for you in the primary here in Colorado had to do with the policies for people with disabilities that you said you would support! Lighting the White House should be realatively simple compared to getting a Health Insurance Reform bill passed….yet it will lead to increased awareness throughout the country…we gave you our support, now we need yours!

  5. Please Light the White House Blue. What a great story Laura. It touched me and felt like I was reading something I had written. We do do it for so many other reasons why not autism. My husband is in Aphganistan and has blue lights on his tents. If our troops can support this why not our own Commander in Chief!

  6. I’m bawling my eyes out right now, that was beautiful. My daughter (6 years old) gets treated pretty nastily by new arrivals in our neighborhood. The kids who have grown up with her around try and defend her but they sometimes are at a loss for words as to what to do. Autism is becoming more and more “normal” and frequent. 1 in 91 now. Obama go BLUE!! ~~Thank you~~

  7. Please Mr. President,

    Allow the world to see our country believes that challenges can be overcome with love, support and a team of united individuals in our communities that BELIEVE we are “one, united country”.

  8. Dear President Obama,
    Please show families affected by autism that you understand us, empathize with us and support us by “lighting it up blue” at the White House on April 2nd. Our state capitol building in Nebraska is participating. I, too, have a son named Matthew. Matthew is so profoundly affected by autism that he has to attend a private school in which he is the only student in his classroom. I’m an advocate in my state, working with Autism Speaks to pass a bill that will require autism be covered by insurance. It would truly be helpful to all of us in this country, especially those of us fighting every day for the rights of our children to receive proper care, education and treatment as it is not readily available, to have a President who will help us remain hopeful throughout our struggles. I know you are a man of integrity and compassion. Please do the right thing. Blue lights on April 2nd.

    Sincerely,

    Colleen Jankovich

  9. Please, Mr. President, light up the White House in honor of all children who suffer from Autism and the families and caregivers who help them through. I have an eight year old daughter who’s Autism symptoms just keep getting worse. Please help us to help our daughter by raising awareness. If more people are educated about this disorder, maybe there will be a few less stares, a few less grown people calling my child “retarded” and a little more help for her and all the other children suffering from Autism. You’re doing a wonderful job with our nation. Please, won’t you take the time to remind the children in the USA that you are there for them? All my gratitude, Mr. President.

  10. The awareness you would create by supporting this request is desperately needed. Please honor our request.

  11. Please help bring more education to the world about Autism! MY DAUGHTER WANTS PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT AUTISM! Even when I try to tell people about Autism the look at me and say SHE LOOKS FINE TO ME!

  12. This is a very real topic and one that many have to deal with and so few tuly understand. Please help us, help those that live this daily and Light It Blue, make sure others see this gesture to promote a cause so dear to many.

  13. I am now a stepmother to a wonderful 6 year old boy who was diagnosed last year with Asbergers Syndrome. He is amazing. We are still having problems getting him to communicate but I’m trying it’s hard for a child from a broken home. We also live in a town where noone really knows about autism and I believe that
    some of the parents in the area kindve hide their children that are because around here appearences are everything. So for my Caleb who is not only having a hard time dealing with what’s going on but because he is going to have endure the cruelty of others, please Mr. President Light it up Blue!!!

  14. […] Laura Shumaker writes this letter asking President Obama to turn the White House blue! She asks that The White House is lit for her […]

  15. As a social worker who has worked extensively with those affected by autism, I have to admit I STILL don’t understand what families like Matthew’s go through on a day to day basis. After my 8 or 10 hours at work (or 16 or 20 if one of my kids needed me and I couldn’t bear to leave them) I GOT TO GO HOME and live a life that society considers normal. I got a break. These families do not.

    Sadly, social services is usually first on the chopping block when budgets must be cut. The agency where I worked has had to eliminate the program that brought specially-trained people in to care for those with autism so their families could take a break from the stress and anxiety of caring for them 24/7. This means that millions of caregivers no longer get a break. Imagine what that must feel like for them.

    Mr. President, you are a father. You know the love a parent has for their child. And I’m willing to bet that you’d find a way to move mountains if one of your children were given the diagnosis of autism. You would help them. You would support them. You would do everything you could to show the world that your child still had hopes and dreams….. and feelings that get hurt when people are mean. Light the White House blue on April 2nd. Please…. from one Chicagoan to another… show that you are not one of “those people” who brush away autism like it was a piece of dirt to be despised. Show the American people that you DO care about them – ALL of them.

  16. Awareness is SUCH a huge piece of the autism puzzle… with all due respect- light it up, Mr. President!!!

  17. It is a fact I had to learn the hard way, minorities are diagnosed years later then Caucasian children even though my son is blonde& blueeyed he has a father that is partialy black his school in California can not cognitively test him so after 11 years of fighting a Far Northern Regional worker listened and my son was diagnosed Autistic/ Intellectually Functionally delayed/ADHD/Bipolar he is a wonderful child funny, loving, and can change in a seconds notice. This needs to changed f

  18. Please Mr. President help by lighting up the White House, it can make a difference in a Child’s life. I live in New York and I am so happy that the Empire State Building is going to be blue that day it is for my son, family and some other child who suffers from Autism. Make the United States and others aware that it is OK to be different.

  19. Please Light up the White House on Autism Awareness Day! Do for my son, Noah and for families all over the world. Let us be an example to others. Thank you for your letter and story.

    Candi Sturgeon,
    Garden Grove, Ca.

  20. That was so touching, reading reminds me of my son with my daughters. I cried as unread it because I know that there is a good chance that my son Josh will have similar experiences throughout his life. President Obama please light the White House blue for all of us affected by this.

  21. Mr. President,
    Please light the White House blue on Autism Awareness Day! Do it for every American family like mine who have been touched by Autism. There are many more of us than you can possibly know. I have a son with Aspergers. He is 19 now and has come a long way, but he still faces challenges every day. Awareness is a huge part of the puzzle. Please support us.

  22. Mr. President,
    This piece might be a picture of my future. I have a 4 year old with autism and a typical 2 year old. But with awareness, they might both have a much easier time of things. I dream of a world where people with disabilities are treated with kindness and respect. I dream of a world where children can get the services they need without parents having to fight and sue, or going bankrupt in the process.

    A blue lightbulb. Such a small step with such a huge impact.

    Thank you.

  23. As the grandmother of a 3 beautiful granddaughters, (1 with Autism) I too urge you Mr. President, to help bring awareness to America this year by lighting up Blue! In honor of all children and families now and in the future effected by this most extraordinary disorder, we will be lighting up and hope you will urge your constituents to as well.

    In Salem, Oregon!

  24. Dear President Obama,
    My name is JT. I live in Omaha, Nebraska. I am Colleen’s son. I am almost 12 years old and the oldest child in my family. I have a brother named Matthew who has Autism. Thankfully, most of my friends understand Matthew and play with him and treat him just like me. Also, they don’t call him anything mean. If they ever say something like “retard” I correct them. And they don’t do it again. However, I know that sometimes people see Matt and just try to ignore him because they don’t know what else to do. Because of this, we are trying to make people more aware of Autism. I am glad that Nebraska’s state capitol is changing their lights to blue. I ask that you light up the White House blue for Autism Awareness Day on Saturday, April 2, 2011. I hope you can help The World be more aware of Autism.
    Thank You,
    -JT

  25. My brother and I are both slightly autistic. It would mean the world to my family if you would light the white house blue. I work with special needs kids on school buses and all those kids are amazing. Each one has a gift and they need to know that as a country we suport them.

  26. Dear Mr. President,
    In honor of all our beautiful children please light the White House in Blue!!! It will spark up conversations that will lead to a better understanding to this coplex disorder. Your support on this matter is greatly needed. Too many children, teens and adults are living with this complex condition and more research, awareness and support needs to be given to them and their families. So in honor of my sweet 6 year old son, please Mr. President light the White House up in Blue!!!!

  27. Light the White House blue for Autism, and all children with special needs. It matters.
    Melissa Bear

  28. Please Mr. President, like up Washington BLUE! Please do this for mine and every other family in America that is affected by autism. You lit up Washington for Breast Cancer, please do it for us as well. 1 in every 150 children face autism. Speak up for us as well. I’m really looking forward to April 1 and 2 and seeing the support our country gives to those with autism.

  29. For some reason, more and more children are being born with autism. We need research as well as awareness. What is the cause? Could there be a cure? I’m fortunate that to date, no one in my family has been diagnosed with the condition. But I know kids who have been. Light up the White House with blue lights to show that you support the parents, families and friends of autism victims.

  30. Mr. President,

    Acceptance is needed with all disabilities. One small step is lighting the White House Blue on April 2nd for Autism Awareness Day. Our autistic children need to know that they matter in this country just as much as “the regular” kids do.
    One small lightbulb for man, one giant step for mankind.
    Thank you,
    Sabrina

  31. Dear Mr. President:

    I am a mother of a 12 yr old boy “Joseph”… Who was diagnosis with Autism when he was 3 yrs old. Of course it took me 2 years to get that diagnosis… As a mom you think ok well give him medicine and he will be all better. Still waiting for that medicine.
    He has wonderful people and family in his corner everyday. I don’t think i could make it if he didn’t.
    We still get the looks from people.”Hey can’t u control u’r son”…
    When i goe places i feel i am always apologixing for Joseph…But for the most point people who know me know my son.
    So Mr. President please light the white house blue so the rest of the country would be just as understanding…

  32. Please Mr. President, do it for the parents that are in the fight along with their children and stand by and up for them at any given moment. Please light it blue for all of those that understand that our children are not bad, just different, light it for those who have n0 clue or choose not to understand. We can only hope and pray that this as many other days is observed with great admiration and learning!

  33. Tears are flowing here….My 2 older sons educate many people on their younger brother Joshua! Mr. President, I supported you, stood up for you and debated for you, please do the same for me, my son and his community. Please don’t let us down!!!!!!!!!!!!!DEFEAT is not not as option here…….we will only accept understanding, awareness, compassion and acceptance! Putting a blue light on the White house would be putting Autism where it belongs……in the public eye !!!!!!

  34. President Obama,
    Please for the sake of ALL of our children, special needs or not, light the White House Blue. A lot of people are still unaware about Autism because their family has not had anyone diagnosed with it yet. Their time will come soone enough.
    I strongly feel as if this is our generation’s “Polio” outbreak. I do not know why two of my four boys are on the spectrum, but I do know that they are, and that they will be affected for the rest of their lives, as will we. I am indeed changed, as is the rest of our family by the gentle and uncondional love, my boys show not only me, but all others they come into contact with.
    Please help to educate our nation about our children, so that they will be more aware when it is one of theirs.

  35. Please Mr President-light it up blue.

  36. Dear Mr. President,
    In honor of all children who suffer from Autism and the families and caregivers who help them through. I have an three year old son with Autism . Please help us to help our son by raising awareness. If more people are educated about this disorder, maybe there will be a few less stares, a few less grown people calling my child “retarded” and a little more help for him and all the other children suffering from Autism.

  37. I want to joint the above people asking you, President Obama, to light the White House blue for such a noble and important cause. We all have or know a child with this life-long devastating disorder, and yet there are so many who don’t understand it.

  38. i have aspergers syndrome a high fucntioniong form of autisim and although having a high iq learnig and making freinds is difficult but with the right help nd support life can be some what normal.

    in my country they are lighting the harbour bridge blue so why not the white house they are both national landmarks and are known the world over.

    i feel that a lot of genius poeple did or do have someform of autisic spectrum disorder.

    anyone how says someone that has autism is retarded is a dickhead they are two separate things.

    autisim is not a disability it is a diffablity becuase we are different say we have a problem when it is them how have the problem.

  39. My son turns 5 yrs old on April 1st. His name is Bryce and he is Autistic. This is very important to many families. I know I will always remember this day that Pres. Obama lights the White House Blue because it will be the day after Bryce turns 5. What a wonderful birthday gift. Please pray Pres. Obama will see the gratitude from many families that have Autism!!

  40. Dear President Obama,

    Please light the White House Blue for my daughter Alanis who suffers with Autism, and for all the Autistic children around the World. Light it up Blue for Autism Awareness! God Bless!!

  41. My 3-year old son has autism, and reading this gave me more hope. More people need to be aware and hopefully Mr. Obama will Light It Up Blue.

  42. Dear President Obama,

    Please light the White House blue for Autism Awareness Day. Our daughter has Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, and we would appreciate your support. Awareness about autism is key for people with differences to be accepted for who they are and for their unique talents. Many people may not know that there are different presentations of autism and those affected have varying abilties.

    Thank you, and God bless you and your family. We appreciate all that you do for America.

  43. We will only know whether we are truly supported when we see the blue light shine from the white house.

  44. Please light the white house blue for Autism for all the beautiful children and their families..GOD BLESS.

  45. Please support this every growing community and light it up Blue!

  46. Dear President Obama,

    Do for my godson,Cohen and for the many children, adults and families all over the world who are effected by autism! Please light the White House blue for Autism Awareness Day.

  47. […] blog that features incredible posts from Jess, Mrs. Sergeant Major, Suzanne, Kerry, Wills, Laura and […]

  48. […] blog that features incredible posts from Jess, Mrs. Sergeant Major, Suzanne, Kerry, Wills, Laura and […]

  49. […] Excerpts from more letters  – http://lightthewhitehouseblue.wordpress.com/laura/ […]


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