There’s a great deal of talk about acceptance regarding autism this month, which is a wonderful shift from all the talk about “awareness”. As I think more about acceptance I am aware of how often I think about “embracing” as in embracing all that each of us is, without trying to mold ourselves to be something we aren’t. What if instead of doing everything in our power to force our autistic children to behave like some imaginary and impossible non-Autistic version of themselves, we instead encouraged them to be the very best Autistic them they could be? The same way we do everything in our power to help our non Autistic children be the very best they can be.
Isn’t that what all of us are trying to do? Aren’t we all trying to be the very best we can each be? So what does that look like, how do we do that? Well, by recognizing what we’re good at, for starters. One of my brothers is an astrophysicist and the other is a micro-biologist. My mother was a chemist, my father a financial advisor and I don’t have a “science-y” gene in my entire body. In college I did everything in my power to avoid both science AND economics. These subjects are of no interest to me. Were someone to tell me, well, you know, your most successful same age peers all love and excel at these topics, therefore you need to apply yourself more to them, and I was then forced to take these classes and was not allowed to pursue my love of art, drawing, design, literature and writing, I would be miserable.
I don’t want to spend my life crunching numbers, looking at stock portfolios, and peering through microscopes. None of that interests me. Hand me a book on quantum physics and I fall asleep. The only good that comes from giving me books like that to read is the money I save on unfilled Ambien prescriptions. I will never be, nor do I want to be, a scientist or economist, I accept this fact completely. I don’t feel ashamed by my lack of interest. I don’t feel this is something I should feign interest in. I have other interests and talents; I focus on those and am very happy. That’s what we all do. We avoid the things we aren’t so great at, and often have little interest in, and focus on what does interest us and where our talents lie. If we were lucky we also had parents who encouraged, supported and cheered us on in pursuing those interests.
Why should any of this be different for our Autistic children? I don’t want Emma to try to be someone she isn’t. I want Emma to be the very best Emma that she can be. Which means I need to support her interests and help her find the best way to communicate. Verbal language is tough for her, typing seems to help her access a part of her mind, that verbal language cannot, so we are doing all we can to support her typing. How she communicates is not as important as that she be able to. She loves to perform and sing loudly, so we have a variety of microphones and an amp that she can use to hone her singing skills. She loves her books, so in between reading her favorite Miss Spider book, I am teaching her about arachnids, what they eat, how long they live, how many legs they have and how they spin webs. Spiders are actually kind of fascinating. Even though Emma loves the Miss Spider books because one of them includes an electrical storm (lesson plan coming on that topic soon!) and Miss Spider has a great many big emotions, which Emma likes to act out, complete with wringing her hands and pretend tears and cries of anguish, there are a great many topics I can piggy back on, to teach her about things like – the weather, electrical storms, any and all big emotions, pretend and real, etc.
I want to encourage her to explore all of these things and more. Last night she wanted to watch a really bad movie that she’d seen her brother Nic watching about a two-headed shark who attacks a group of teenagers. And despite my misgivings about the content (and just awful quality of the movie in general… The acting is phenomenally bad, the shark is the best thing in the movie) it was age appropriate and I figured I could turn it off if it got too gory and awful. There was a great deal of emoting and blood curdling screams, which Emma thought hilarious. She kept saying, “Watch out, the shark is going to come and eat you! Oh no! He’s going to bite your arm off!” Then she pretended to bite me. Bad movie, great time was had by all AND I now have another lesson plan I intend to create regarding sharks!
Be the very best YOU, you can be. Now that’s the kind of acceptance I can get behind!