This afternoon something really special happened. Michael and I had a chance to speak with an amazing young man on the autism spectrum in our community. This has been something I have wanted to happen for a very long time, but with busy work and school schedules it did not happen. This young man and Michael had hung out together at an extra curricular activity years ago and the friendly bond had been mutual. Michael used to ask about him, and over the years I had meant to try and arrange a meeting, but life got in the way. Fast forward to June when I contacted this individual to ask him questions about his tween and teen years and how autism affected him while maturing given the challenges Michael is experiencing. He was a wealth of information and asked if Michael would like to talk with him in person. It would also mark the first time I would meet him face to face. We have corresponded by email, Facebook and spoken on the phone only previously. I was excited and so we set up a day and time to meet. This afternoon late in the day was the meeting.
What an experience! For me watching someone so like Michael, but yet not him, (you know the saying, once you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person, ) I was loving listening to how they talked, what they talked about, and how they shared thoughts, feelings and laughter together. I was included in the conversation too, for which I felt privileged. There was one moment when Michael heard about all this young man is doing and has accomplished so far in his twenty something years, and said, “Wow, you did all that with autism!” The comment made me laugh and then feel sad, as Dad and I have always told Michael his autistic brain is something to be proud of, and that the only difference between him and someone non-autistic is how they see the world a little differently and need to find what their strengths are and what they can contribute.
Different means we can learn from each other. So my comment back to Michael was, “Yes, he did all that with autism like you do all the amazing things you do with autism. Your brain is beautiful and I wish I could do some of the things you guys are talking about as easily.” The young man agreed wholeheartedly, and I saw Michael’s happy surprise. It’s the same thing with Michael’s ADHD. I have pointed out over the years how many celebrities and singers have this kind of brain, then added; “look at what they have accomplished. You can make your dreams come true. Just believe in yourself like Daddy and I believe in you.”
For me watching two people with autism talk so openly about victories, struggles and their unique brains, helped remind me how normalizing who are kids are is what counts the most. It is hard for them when they are around people who even though well meaning, may misunderstand what autism is and isn’t. Even Dad and I sometimes forget what Michael needs to hear. He could be looking away and still listening. We need to relax with the look at me. He needs time to finish his thoughts, stay on track, and have gentle reminders to use strategies to stay calm and focused. He also needs to be reminded that autism is a part of who he is and it will not limit him as long as he takes advantages of the strengths he has with the kind of brain he has- hyper focus on interests that could form a career, energy to carry him forward, and an ability to see the world in a different way and get others to follow suit. His explanation for loving traffic jams? It helps me to slow down. I never will look at traffic the same way again! Ironically, Michael and all children and adults I talk to or read about, have taught me to slow down in my life, to look at things from a different perspective, and to see how learning to embrace differences makes us all better human beings in the end.
Exceptional Parents, when was the last time you celebrated your Exceptional Child’s uniqueness within the autism spectrum? If it’s been awhile since you told them everything about them is awesome, now is the time. Even the things about a different brain that you don’t get, take the time to learn and speak to an individual who is autistic. They will no doubt open up your mind to what is possible with acceptance, respect and compassion. Until next time.