Yesterday was World Autism Awareness Day, and I admit that my lack of knowledge in previous years made this day just another day. I didn’t know what Autism was apart from the stereotype. I didn’t know how the disorder could impact my life. But now I do.

And that special day means so much to me.

Autism is prevalent, yet widely misunderstood. Not even professionals fully grasp the cause of this disorder, and because of that, people without a background in the field are left even more confused.

I am currently studying Applied Behavioral Analysis with an Emphasis in Autism through Ball State University. I could tell you the primary symptoms, the typical age of onset, and the best evidence-based treatments.

Those things are important. However, today I want to share my heart. I want to tell you that Autism does not affect one’s abilities to love or to be loved. It should not affect one’s chances to succeed in society, yet sometimes it does.

After working with children and adolescents who have Autism nearly every day for the last year or so, I have learned a lot. Here’s a small part of it:

1. Autism does not define someone. It may just be a part of him or her. So many people limit others based on labels and expected abilities (or inabilities), yet I believe this is wrong. People who have autism can accomplish just as much as the rest of us; those accomplishments may just look different.

2. When particular complexities of life are removed, love evades the content of each day. I have found that so many people who have autism are the best lovers out there. They are selfless, caring, and sacrificial. They don’t let the minor issues of life wreck them. They keep pushing forward and focus on loving others.

3. Communication is a blessing. I take simple conversation for granted. For me, understanding social skills and expressing my wants and needs are natural acts and somewhat innate, yet people with autism need to work hard at these things.

4. Change is hard. Amen. Although resistance to change is a symptom of ASD, it is something every human being deals with. Some of us crave change, and some of us dread it. However, change always accompanies some difficulty. Perhaps people with Autism aren’t so “different,” right?

5. People are people, and they all deserve the same opportunities. It hurts my heart when I learn of children or adults with special needs who do not receive the same opportunities as the rest of the world. When I look at my clients, when I hug my clients, when I see them make progress, my heart sings. I see a person; I don’t see autism.

World Autism Awareness Day is meant to draw Awareness. I believe that Awareness should breed motivation for education. The world needs to better understand this disorder. The world needs to empathize and change opportunities. The world needs to create them.

If you have met someone with autism, I am willing to bet you agree.

After all, you are probably a changed person based on that one relationship.

I know I am.