One of the single best pieces of marital/relationship advice I was ever given was: Every day record all the things your partner did that was kind, helpful, thoughtful, ‘right’. What are the things you love about this person? What do you admire about this person? What do you respect about them? What are the things they do that make you happy? What do they do that fills you with joy? To many, these questions may seem obvious, but try doing this when you’re angry or fearful or even just annoyed. I remember sitting with my journal that first evening and wondering what the hell was I going to write? He breathes? Could that really be seen as a good thing? (It’s okay to laugh.) I’m a master at this exercise now. In fact, I’m so good at it, I now think of the positives FIRST! And guess what? My marriage is pretty fabulous, of course it helps that I’m married to such an amazing guy.
The first time anyone asked me about Emma’s assets we were a year or two into the diagnosis. I thought it was a trick question. Seriously. It was my brother Chris, who asked, “What does Emma like to do? What is she interested in? What is she good at?”
My mind went completely blank. No one had asked me these three important questions about my Autistic daughter. Listing assets does not fit neatly into all those questionnaires I was constantly having to fill out. Those little booklets with questions broken into categories of age. Example: From 3-5 years old: Your child plays appropriately with toys The choices were: Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Usually, Always. My pencil would hover over the choices as my mind raced. What does “appropriate” even mean? Why is pretending a doll is an actual baby, when it clearly is not, considered “appropriate”? Eventually I resigned myself to the task and considered “Rarely” and “Sometimes”. Depending on my mood, I would mark one of the two and feel the all too familiar sensation of constriction in my stomach and throat. Fear flooded my body and mind as I tried to concentrate on the next question: Your child eats using all utensils. Again I would resist the urge to fudge the truth. I had to force myself to choose the answer that came closest to reality. I came to dread those questionnaires almost as much as reading the evaluation reports sent in once a year from the Board Of Education. They were both exercises in, so-called, critical thinking – Look at this picture and tell me what’s wrong with it. Look at this child. Now let’s compare her to her neurotypical peers. Let’s make a list of all that’s “wrong” so we can make things “right”.
But wait! How is this helpful to anyone? Comparing anyone to anyone else is a lesson in how to live one’s life in hell. But compare a neuroatypical person to a neurotypical one is absurd. Why do we even do this? To what end? How is this helpful? Certainly it isn’t helpful to the neuroatypical person. We do not say to a person who uses a wheelchair, well, you’re not walking and your same age ambulatory peer is, so let’s get you up and out of that chair and try to build those muscles. Then, when you resist or protest, we restrain you, tell you to stop complaining or tell you that you can’t fully comprehend the situation. When you still do not manage to stand, let alone walk, we shake our heads sadly and tell you, you really need to have a better attitude and try harder, but don’t worry, it’s okay, we’ll keep working on it.
What does this thinking do to a person over the long-term? If we are judged, compared, relentlessly criticized, taught that we fall short, told we don’t measure up, dissected publicly, privately and shunned, what does that do to us? What would that do to any of us? We are, after all, regardless of our neurology, human beings. We do all share that. Has the human piece gotten lost in all of this?
What does she like? What’s she good at? What is she interested in?
I’ll have to get a bigger pad of paper.
Em at Gymnastics – October, 2012