At IDEA House, we do a special Autism Awareness unit in April of every year. It is one of my favorite lessons to teach and a time of year I learn so much from our students. (In actuality, every day at IDEA House is Autism Awareness Day, but the intensity of our lessons and discussions increases in April.) It is an honor to help children learn about their Autism, but it can be a long, emotional process!
The process of self acceptance is a difficult one for all people. It begins with the “terrible twos”, progresses to teen angst, and is epitomized by every young adult who has ever gone off to “find himself.” For most of us, it is an everlasting pursuit. Imagine (or remember) your own experiences in this journey. Now imagine you have been identified with “Autism” , and all you know about it is what you hear your parents whispering. Maybe you even have family members who, from lack of understanding, think you are “being bad” or are “just spoiled.” Enter in a teacher, coach, pastor, or neighbor who bemoan how difficult it is to include you in things. Is it any wonder our kids are confused or even self-loathing?
Talk to your child about his Autism. My advice to parents is to start when the child is young (or first diagnosed.) For younger children, keep the explanation simple and matter of fact. “Autism describes the way your brain, body, and words work together. Autism can make some things a little tougher for you to learn, but it can also bring you wonderful gifts and talents.” Talk about those struggles. Talk about those gifts. Talk to your child; not about him in front of him. Don’t whisper the word “Autism.” Say it with pride the same way you talk about his beautiful smile, great sense of humor, or artistic ability.
For older children, you need to listen as much as you need to talk. You may be surprised to hear what your older child thinks Autism is (if he has not been educated from the start.) It makes me incredibly sad to have teenage students ask me what Autism is. Although I am honored to be able to help any student, I am sad for a child who has spent years not knowing the details of something that is a huge factor in his own life.
Today, in class, we watched the video, Just Like You. I prefaced the showing with the following reminders: Autism is different in each person. Autism is a spectrum disorder. You may relate to none, some, or all of what you see. The students (even the high school aged) watched the movie with great interest. Then they talked, a lot.
They talked about their sensory issues. They talked about feelings. They asked questions and then they talked some more. One student (who had previously been very resentful at having been diagnosed at a later age) spoke with pride about shutting down an online gamer’s negative remark about Autism. Another spoke about how his intense interest in video games may translate into a career. Another spoke about the way paper smells different, depending upon its age. Wow. Who knew?
I spoke about my sometimes envious feelings for the way so many of my students see the world with such clarity and beauty. How I wish I could remember numbers or notice patterns the way some of my IDEA House kids can. I told them how privileged I felt to be sitting in a room full of individuals with such unique, complex thinking styles. Every single one of them beamed with pride at that statement. We acknowledged that Autism can cause some things to be more difficult. Simply acknowledging that fact makes it so much easier to accept.
Autism does not have to be the “elephant in the room.” It can be the rainbow in the sky, the melody in the music, the mosaic in the museum. Your child’s first perception of himself will come from you. Be sure you give him the proper framework for the amazing creation he is.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0w6carvS8k Just Like You
You have Autism...Words that instantly go through the brain like a bullet. The day you look around and wonder if everyone in the room can notice that you are different. Different? Huh. That’s a word.
I always hear the phrase, Different, not less. That is easy to say from those who don’t have it, but Temple Grandin is the one who is quoted for saying this.. One of the first things people want to do when a loved one is diagnosed with Autism is research people who have Autism that have made it or seem as if they are ‘normal.’ Well, Einstein made it. Edison was successful. Look what Bill Gates has done.
The invisible disability. The one that can only be seen with trained eyes or judging eyes. I always knew that I had something. Neurologists said I did. Teachers said I did. My parents said I had disabilities. Even the word, disabilities, makes it sound negative. The day I realized that my differences, my differentabilities were, actually, my strengths, I saw my Autism as the best part about me.
Being the invisible one in the room was an art. I had that artform, down. There is a movie where a nonverbal girl was left in a play therapy room. While all the adults were talking behind the two-way mirror, she painted herself into the wall. The adults rushed into the room looking for her. The only way they saw her was when she opened her eyes and blinked. That is and will always be one of the most transforming moments to me, in my Autism.
The adults were all running around trying to find her. They were all trying to see her. They all were frantically trying to figure out her world. The point was... she was fine. She was content in who she was. That was her way of saying, while you guys try to figure me out and see who I really am, I will just hang here and be who I am. I am communicating to you. I am telling you exactly what I am thinking and feeling. I am the artist. I can do and see things that you are not able to even see. I got this. I am not the one with the issues. I am creating this wonderful world that I live in. It is powerful and visionary. It is solitary, but yet inviting. You want so much to figure me out and try to see where I need help or write lists of what is wrong or different about me in my Autism. While you try to figure out my weaknesses, I am building my strengths and just being me.
The world sees Autism as weak. I only see it as beautiful, passionate, and strong. I see it as a lens into a world that many do not have. Those with Autism are some of the most creative, out-of-the box thinkers. While many want us to conform, squelching our abilities, putting us into cookie cutter type molds, we begin to see ourselves as different. When in fact, there is not a person that I know that learns the same, talks the same or has the same exact ideas, abilities, and drive.
Every single person is different. What makes those with Autism the ones who have to accept their differences? That alone, makes people with Autism wonder what is wrong with them that I need to accept?
Does Acceptance mean that there is something wrong with me? Who decided that? That girl that painted herself into that wall was just being who she was. It took her creative communication and her contentment in her world, for people to realize that there was something amazing about her. It has to take an Einstein for someone to think Autism is amazing. There has to be a Mozart savant or a Edison for people to say, “They are gifted.”
While we are being who we are, people are scrambling around trying to figure out what is different about us, what is less about us, what we need to change/fix, while we are painting ourselves into the wall with the most creative, confidence of just being who we are.
Who really needs to accept that we have Autism? Does the way society view people with Autism cause a stigma? Do people with Autism have to accept that they have it or does society make them feel as if there is something wrong with them so they have to accept society's perception of them?