Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Autism Answer: Dear People, Your Experience is YOUR Experience

When you meet an adult who tells you that they are autistic, please try not to start comparing and judging them against your own experience of autism. Please don't think "but you're looking in my eyes so you can't be autistic" or "well, I'd better not touch you, you won't like it because you're autistic" or "Ya right! Barely!" or.. well, you get it.

Three of my brothers, and other adult autistics that I know, have learned the skills necessary to get jobs, drive cars, enjoy an interesting conversation etc. They have overcome obstacles that many of us can't imagine in order to learn these skills, and are very often doing them for our benefit. They hope to be accepted and they know we would prefer they make eye contact and talk to us about things we are interested in.

Just as your children will overcome surprising challenges in order to speak clearly or understand the importance of personal space. Please remember that when your child grows-up she too may look in peoples eyes and enjoy snuggles or drive a car. The fact that our loved ones work their butts off to gain these skills is amazing and should be celebrated! Be careful not to undermine hard work just because you weren't there when it happened. Or because you are afraid people are trying to take advantage of a system. Or because it doesn't match your own experience of autism.

In our small town my brother has a nickname. They call him "weird Rye". He likes the name, although it does perplex him. He's pretty sure that he isn't weird. In truth, he almost isn't! And I kinda like the nickname too. Because he used to be called names far worse, and I think weird is a compliment! It has taken him an amazing amount of work and years to become weird. And I'm very impressed and proud of him.

This town wasn't there when he was wrapping his lips around heaters or screaming "don't go on the poo highway!!!" every time my mom would drive onto an Interstate.

They see him now, seeming normal... but not. Great! No problem! Just please, allow him, and others like him, to celebrate how far they've come. Don't think "well, you let me touch you without flinching, so your not autistic. Just weird!" What you could choose to remember is that he may have wanted to flinch, he just didn't. That was for you.

He also may never have minded touch, or maybe now has healed to point of being comfortable with touch. Your experience of autism should be shared and supported. Just please don't accidentally take autism understanding a few steps back by assuming that your experience is the correct, true, or hardest experience.

Let's live this experience differently, but together!!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)