The Gift of Autism
by Rebecca West
Special Needs Advisor for Indiana Home Education Network
Two of my five children are on the autism spectrum. Yes they are different, but they are wonderful vibrant people with a lot to offer. My son was diagnosed as a child with Asperger’s. My daughter was not diagnosed until this past fall, but we always knew she was different. The doctors were always coming up with some flakey excuse why they couldn’t diagnose autism and settled for saying she “exhibited autistic-like behaviors.” DUH! We have always treated them as normal and allowed them to be different. Rather than seeing it as a terrible fate and something to be eradicated if possible, we just accepted that was who they were and accepted the differences. They both grew up to be delightful people. Yes, they think differently and have some difficulty with social skills, but they both have a lot to offer.
My son often misses social cues and until you learn to think outside the box can seem somewhat illogical, but he has found his niche as a customer service representative for Verizon Wireless and is doing well. He has difficulty with social gatherings because too many people in a small space make him very uncomfortable and the concept of small talk totally escapes him. He can handle his job because he doesn’t have to deal with people in person and it’s all done with a computer and headset. He does have trouble if you spring anything new on him without warning or suddenly change plans. We learned a long time ago to always tell him in advance what was likely to happen and what to expect in any situation. We also learned to think outside the box in order to understand his perspective. There are times when he gets hung up on a minute detail. As a child, this might have led to a meltdown when we insisted he move on. As an adult he has learned to get past it and move on.
My daughter has difficulty going anywhere because crowds, florescent lights, noise, smells all bother her severely. She has found work online as an editor and final reader for a book publisher and is herself a published author. She is active in several online writer’s groups and has several blogs. She has always been dependable and willing to help in any way needed. She is an intelligent delightful person. Yes, she sometimes has difficulty expressing herself because the words get stuck, but be patient and she can usually manage to say what she is thinking and she is a prolific, gifted writer.
When all five kids get together there are noise, laughter, fun, and lots of philosophical discussions—basically a normal family. A diagnosis of autism is not a death sentence. Focus on what you child can do, not on what they can’t and don’t limit them. Allow them to be as normal as they can. Many autistics have trouble with verbal skills, but don’t assume they lack intelligence. Give them free access to a keyboard or pen and paper and you may just be surprised at what they have to say. Rather than behavior problems being an integral part of autism, they are frequently a symptom of frustration. Talk to your child and find out why they’re frustrated. Meltdowns are not the same as tantrums although they may look very similar.
Many autistics are very sensitive to tastes or smells or textures. They are not being deliberately difficult. They really are severely bothered and unable to cope with whatever it is. This is just one of the differences. Treat them as normal and allow the differences. If an autistic wants to be alone, don’t force them to be sociable. They probably can be made to act completely normal and interact for a prolonged period, but at tremendous emotional cost to them. Autistics can and do succeed and live rich full lives. They bring a fresh perspective in the way they view the world. Learn to listen to them. They just might have something of value to offer. Accept your autistic child, allow them to be who God meant them to be and embrace the difference.