I am very impressed with the whole neurodiversity movement as a movement to show the world that kids with autism, ADHD, and any other so-called disability just have different brains and lots to offer the world if it gives them a chance. I have also learned how I, as a Mom of a neurodiverse child with a different brain and view of the world, have been guilty of masking. In the early days of Michael’s autism diagnosis, I was worried about his rocking and obvious physical movements. I was worried it would alert negative attention to him and get him labeled in a deviant way. I was wrong. Yes, people asked why he did that. People were curious. And many knew about autism. Some more than others. I am still overwhelmed by the people who “get” Michael in a way that took me time to get him. Sometimes they are people who are neurodiverse, of course. Other times though, they are people with their own challenges who just understand a kid who thinks outside of the box. When I started seeing more of myself in Michael, it both excited and frightened me. Wow. Now I had a responsibility to try and understand his brain which was different from mine, but yet, not all that different. I have anxiety. I sometimes shy away from people and talk too much, or not enough. I also felt different inside growing up. But back to Michael and this whole incredible movement of people who want the world not to regard them as less than, but as capable, in their own way.
Masking, at least from what I understand it to be, is pretending to “pass” and be something you are not, not autistic, not with ADHD, not with anything else. In other words, assimilate with the “normal” or “neuro-typical” people, by behaving the same as them or not standing out. People who are exceptional can do this, but at a price. I have seen it in my own child, and it pains me. There is nothing to be ashamed of in being different. I proudly tell people Michael has autism and talk about the other ways his brain works differently, and I make sure to say that though it is sometimes challenging for his Dad and I to understand him, we respect him and want him to do what he needs to do to be the person he was created to be and do what he was meant to do here on earth. I’d like to say I was always so enlightened to have practiced this, but no I was not. I tried to get him to “pass” as a baby, and when he did not as he got older, I did not venture out too far from our immediate family and special needs community.
As Michael has gotten older, he has done the venturing himself and taken me with him. I found myself telling him in hushed tones, “don’t stim too much with your toy. People will think you are being aggressive.” “This is the way to act so you don’t draw attention to yourself.” “People with autism and people without share the world together and you can’t always expect them to understand you honey.” This was my fear talking. Fear of Michael getting bullied for being different, especially in light now of intense anxiety and other hyperactivity issues. It was also my fear of not being able to protect him and advocate for his uniqueness and amazing brain and abilities. Then, as usual, Michael surprised me with doing what I think I had originally been prepating him for, and didn’t know it. Michael has started educating others about his autism and diabetes and other challenges. He explains to kids at parks why he stims. Today he shared a story at camp where kids asked him questions about his fidget toy and diabetes supplies. Michael went on to tell them about his autism, diabetes and suspected ADHD. He told them why he stims and why he carries the toy. They were interested. Some kids did make some negative comments, but a boy in the group who has a brother with autism said, “hey guys, leave him alone .People with autism need to stim. It helps them. It’s all good.” Wow. I also need to mention that he does not have a shadow or companion at the camp he is at now. This is the first year we have tried this, and he is doing well. He is literally out there in the world on his own, and I could not be more proud of how he is starting to advocate for himself. This is happening while he is struggling with coming to terms with so many other things.
After some difficult moments tonight, Michael shared this story with me and I felt humbled and in awe of him. He is so strong. I told him that I was so proud of how he is telling the world who he is. Yes, there have been moments he has tried to use his autism to get things his way, ” (and that will be another blog post) :), but tonight he showed me how important it is for people with autism to take that mask off. Yes, not everyone is comfortable to do it right away, but as parents and caregivers of special kids, we need to make the world see them not as disabled or less than, but as the capable individuals they are. The world needs people with autism and people with autism need to be able to be themselves at all times.
Exceptional Parents, do you embrace who your Exceptional Child is? Do you let them take the mask off in public as well as private or worry what people will say? It’s a process as a parent and as someone with an exceptional brain will tell you. It comes with time, patience, and humility. Be open to reading blogs and articles from people who have autism. Try and understand their world as they are working so hard to understand yours. Help society accept all differences as beautiful. Together, we’ll make the world a wonderful place. Until next time.
Feeling stressed about special needs parenting? You are not alone. I have been there and lived these very words before realizing the gift of who my son is and what he has helped me realize. If you want to have more information about me and my journey, check out my website http://www.creatingexceptionalparenting.com and my FREE E-BOOK “5 WAYS TO HANDLE EXCEPTIONAL PARENTING” at http://www.creatingexceptionalparenting.com/ebooks.