Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What's WRONG with YOU?

Today is World Autism Awareness Day. Too bad we can't educate the world in one day. To try to educate some people I know might take all year. (As well as some 2x4 therapy) Some people just don't get it. Some people want to know "what's wrong with her?" Here's the deal: nothing is wrong with her. Everything is wrong with you. Maybe not everything, but everything as it relates to her. 

I have a child who falls on the autism spectrum, so I've got a dog in this fight. I'm the dog, and I'm fighting. Fighting to educate people about what they consider "different." We're all different. What a boring world it would be if we were all the same. I've often jokingly said "Well things would be better if everyone were just like ME!" But I really don't mean that. I mean, driving would be exponentially better, but that's about where it would stop. I don't want everyone to like the exact same things I like. Then there wouldn't be enough for me! What makes us different is what makes us unique. 

Ah, unique. If I had a dollar for every time a teacher started a parent-teacher conference with, "She's very unique," I might not be working right now. Yes, I know she's unique. I'm her mother. And don't try to substitute the word unique with "quirky," "unusual," "peculiar," "idiosyncratic," or "eccentric." They all mean the same thing. They mean my child is non-conformist and won't fit inside the tiny little box you want all students to fit into. They mean my child is one-of-a-kind. They mean my child is an individual. I get that. I understand that. Does it interfere with her ability to learn? Does it interfere with your ability to teach? 

There are three main diagnoses that fall under the autism spectrum. "Autistic," "Asperger syndrome," and "PDD-NOS." (pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified) These disorders are typically characterized by social deficits, communication difficulties, stereotyped or repetitive behaviors and interests, and in some cases, cognitive delays. You will notice I have underlined the word typically. That means there are exceptions. Don't question me if I state that my child falls on the autism spectrum by saying that she doesn't ____, or she's never ____ . I said "spectrum." Look it up if you have to, but here's a hint: a rainbow is a spectrum of colors. I hope that helps.

And there isn't a damn thing wrong with her. 

I'm a "fixer." What I finally figured out is that my child didn't need fixed, everyone else needed fixed. She may have a whole string of letters (ADHD, ODD, OCD), as well as severe anxiety issues, but she's not broken. You fix what is broken, and she isn't. I've never thought of her as different, but incredibly advanced. I had to explain the electoral college to her when she was seven, and she understood it. She's wise beyond her years and absolutely hysterically funny. But so many people are so incredibly uncomfortable around her that it affects me as a mother in ways I can't understand. Some of them are close members of our own family.

Sarcasm is an odd component in her life. She uses it like a second language, but most of the time when it is directed AT her, she doesn't get it. She takes it as literal. I explained it to a teacher once like this: "You might be using sarcasm with her, but she doesn't know you're being sarcastic. She just thinks you're a bitch." (She was a bitch, but pointing out to her that she was a bitch regardless of her use of sarcasm wasn't going to help out my cause, so I just left it at that.) 

She has NO tolerance for the intolerant. Because she's always been "different," she relates with the minority. She stands up for the little guy (or girl). She roots for the underdog. When you generalize about an entire group of people, she's going to be offended. When you use derogatory terms, she is going to be outraged. (I do too, but I know that those people in my life who do this are shallow, superficial assholes. I've come to terms with it.)

I guess my point is, there is nothing wrong with people who are autistic. They might process things differently than you do. They might respond to outside stimuli differently than you do. They might view what is important in life as something totally different that what you do. 

What is wrong is how you respond to them. Don't stare and frown. Don't laugh and giggle and point. Most importantly, don't judge. Don't talk about someone who is autistic behind their back. Or behind their family's backs. Chances are, it will get back to us, and then we will pity you for being so small-minded. Try to understand. (Honestly, I try to understand why some people are such assholes, why can't you try to understand?)

There's nothing wrong with her; what's wrong with you?