Not long enough ago I was like too many others. I assumed that people with severe cognitive challenges or neurodevelopmental disorders were to be taken care of as different and unable; the more challenged they were, the less like me I thought of them as. Sure, I knew they had thoughts and stuff, but I couldn't imagine that we ever had anything in common or that their ideas might be related to desires common with the majority of us.
But because I was "nice" I wouldn't name call or bully or make fun of people with disorders, disabilities, and challenges. Nope, not me! I would nervously take care of them and take them to the park. Easily slipping into conversations with the people I met there, explaining why this brother of mine or this person I was volunteering my time with was behaving the way they were. I'd go ahead and make up reasons because I didn't think there were any real understandable reasons. Together my new friend and I would smile condescendingly at the person I had been nice enough to bring to the park.
Ouch, ouch, ouch!
Friends, I was in the position to grow and share and teach the world so many times, but I was never up for the task. Though, if you asked me at the time I would have thought myself teaching kindness.
And, you know, it's not like I didn't have anyone showing me otherwise. My mom has always, always, always exampled and taught and explained the error of my ways; the error of so many people's ways. Yet, because she was not the norm, because her belief in the abilities, feelings, and similarities that cognitively challenged adults and children have to everyone else in the world was rarely agreed to, I chose to nod at my mom with equal parts worry and condescension.
Slowly, slowly, slowly I began to see the truth behind my mom's teachings and the cruelty of my supposed kindness. That doesn't feel good, you know? Revealing yourself to have been taking the easy road at the expense of others. Because for a lot of years that's what I was doing. People would applaud my patience and I wouldn't have to make them uncomfortable the way mom did, by insisting they treat all people as equals.
Slowly, slowly, slowly is not great. But it's better than never. And I am different now, though not always comfortably so. The good news is that my new uncomfortable-ness comes from knowing that my challenged loved ones and friends are equal to me and are not "other" or even very different. If my brain was behaving similarly to theirs, I would likely make similar choices as them. So, I feel nervous because I want to be their friend but I don't have a great track record for understanding how.
In time, I hope to get over this uncomfortable-ness that I am proud of. Because I plan to keep on practicing.
Don't give up on anyone, friends! Your children, your spouse, your neighbor, yourself.
Slowly isn't always as wonderful as now, but it is wonderful.
And slowly can sometimes equally as wonderful, when it's consistent and coupled with the intention of gathering so much love and learning along the way.
Hugs, smiles, and love!!
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)
*If you're interested in learning more about my family, and their contributions to my journey of discovery and growing up, I invite you to get a copy of my book Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself: A Collection of Stories that Slowly Grow Up (Available at Amazon, Archway Publishing, Barnes & Noble, BAM, Powell's, and more. Or check your local library! Request it, even!)