Life Lessons from Autistic Adults Real Life stories, which we can ALL learn
As I read this story, I just feel so encouraged and inspired by this autistic person who has on one hand gone through much and achieved much and on the other hand, still value and impart the importance of embracing one's own autism and self-acceptance.. which are fundamentally very important to our very existence
I encourage my readers to click on the link above to read her story. Her story speaks for itself and it won't do justice for me to re-tell or regurgitate her story here, lest I dilute it. She is her own voice.
What I will do, however, is list down life lessons I think we can ALL take away from it. I have categorised them according to what I feel is most important to a certain group/category of people, but of course some lessons can be applied across various categories of people
LIFE LESSONS FOR AUTISTICS
#1: Preserve your own mental health and self acceptance
Preserve them over and above masking and conforming to societal norms and behaviours.
It may be tempting to do the latter to enjoy the benefits of fitting in, achieving, getting praise etc., but unknown to you, you are suppressing who you really are and pretending to be someone you are not... this cannot go on!
#2: Self acceptance is a journey.
Some of us, like myself (I got a late diagnosis), take years to come to accepting ourselves.. and the journey of our self-discovery, autism life, and embracing it, is far from over... in fact, perhaps it is only the beginning of a journey filled with anxiety and uncertainty, but also with excitement and hope.
It is a gradual process. Be patient with yourself and continue on this journey of a lifetime.
We all still have a purpose on this earth, maybe we just had not discovered it yet.
#3: Turn Autistic traits and "deficits" to strengths
Some traits that people may see as deficits, others see as strength. An intense narrow interest in something can be seen as boring, annoying, whatever, but that same trait could enable you to excel very well in a task that requires that kind of focus
In the story which I shared I link above (I hope you have read it before reading this blog post), some of her autistic traits which people would have easily seen as "inflexible", "inability', but yet those very SAME traits were seen by her teachers as leadership qualities, maturity and focus.
LIFE LESSONS FOR PARENTS
#1: Presume competence
Autistics can have a lot of potential. Denying them of opportunities to develop, because of the self-created mindset that they cannot do it, suppresses them from reaching their potential that they have in them, and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It doesn't have to be that way!
#2: Get your child a diagnosis at a young age
It helps you and himself/herself understand him/her better, and his/her needs and how you can support his/her growth and development.
It gains him/her access to services that can enable him/her to navigate life and have a meaningful education journey and life journey.
More importantly, it helps your child learn to grow toward self acceptance from young, and understanding and embracing of oneself.
This is a WAY BETTER alternative than the child going through masking, and enjoying the glory of fitting in, but at the expense of his/her mental health & wellbeing, and losing his/her true self and sense of self intrinsic worth.
Moreover, it will perpetuate/fuel the already toxic abelism paradigm in society because when people perceive that autistic people who mask achieve so much more than their counterparts who show their autistic traits so openly and uncontrollably, it misleads people to wrongly believe that the former is more desirable while the latter is less than respectable, less than acceptable, or worse, despised.
This causes more autisitics and/or their parents to be hesitant to get a diagnosis, and that the cycle repeats.
Break this vicious cycle! Show your child a better path. Show the autism community (autistic people, parents/caregivers, professionals and allies) a better path. The better path of self esteem, self confidence, self development, self acceptance and teaching others to autistic people, and to unleash the potential in them... potential that exist because of autism, instead of in spite of!
We can all start walking on this better path individually and collectively.
The first step: Getting a diagnosis at a young age and accepting and embracing your child for who he/she is, with his/her autism, and because of his/her autism, NOT in spite of
An autism diagnosis is NOT a negative thing and is NOT a reason to lose all hope in everything and in life itself.
"Show them a better path" ~ Charles Xavier to Raven/Mystique in X-Men, Days of Future past (I am an X-Men fan so I couldn't resist posting this here!)
#3: Don't force your child to fit in, instead surround him with people who will love and accept him/her unconditionally
Start with people you trust. It could be your siblings, your siblings' children, or a close family friend. A good group of people could be parents of autistic children as they too are on this journey learning to love and embrace their own autistic children.
In the Asian culture where people value reputation and "face", it is not uncommon for parents to value it over their child's mental health and wellbeing, such as by forcing the child to suppress certain behaviours and put socially appropriate behaviours to preserve "face".
It sends the autistic child a message: "Daddy and mummy value face first, me/son/daughter second". It is very emotionally damaging
But here is the good news to the parent readers: it is within your power, your circle of influence, your locus of control, to change that.
A small example from my life: if your autistic child is not comfortable with strangers and at his/her birthday party wants to have a photo with his/her cousins only without their "other half" (the person(s) whom any of his/her cousin(s) is dating) is a very reasonable request. Please do NOT insist that your child must have one photo that includes their "other half"
LIFE LESSONS FOR EDUCATORS/TEACHERS
#1 Strengths-based approach over a "deficits" based approach
Some traits that people may see as deficits, others see those SAME traits as strength. An intense narrow interest in something can be seen as boring, annoying, whatever, but that same trait could enable you to excel very well in a task that requires that kind of focus
In the story which I shared I link above (I hope you have read it before reading this blog post), some of her autistic traits which people would have easily seen as "inflexible", "inability', but yet those same traits were seen by her teachers as leadership qualities, maturity and focus.
Consider this: if you are trying to suppress or change some of their behaviours, instead of changing their behaviours, consider changing your paradigm of them. If your paradigm is the behaviours are undesirable and need fixing, you probably need to shift your own paradigm of the autistic students you are helping/mentoring.
Doing so will enable the autistic child to unleash his/her potential and use their traits to their advantage. The traits can be strengths instead of weaknesses, a competitive advantage instead of an impairment, a gift rather than a deficit.
#2: Believe in your autistic students and accept them
It helps them in their journey of self belief and self acceptance.
#3: Hear from Autistic Adults
We autistic adults have been there done that. We have survived the storm of mainstream school (and in a time/decade/era when there was much less awareness, acceptance and support) and came out ALIVE! Now some of us so generously and openly share our stories because we believe in the cause for autism.
Take time to listen to us as we share our stories, our tips, our recommendations etc.
You as an educator may have studied autism day and night (which is important and valid), but we have LIVED with autism (I am tempted to say we are walking encyclopedias).
You open the books, you close the books at the end of the day or when you take a break... but we never close the books. They are open 24/7 because we live and breathe with autism, and for some of us, even more books are open as we interact with autistic peers, seniors and juniors, finding unity and commonality in our similarities and celebrating the diversity of our differences.
I am happy to share that some parents and professionals and educators have told me how helpful my sharing and advice is. But sad to say, I have also come across professionals and educators who tell me I don't understand the autistic kids under their care because I am "very different" from them, or tell me I am "not needed" because they have trained educators. They cannot be more wrong about me! And of other autistic adults for that matter.
Together with strategic alliance and collaboration, we can make a difference TOGETHER, for the whole is greater than the sum of its parts
A CLOSING WORD - FOOD FOR THOUGHT
An autistic friend from another country said "I was loved/embraced (by my parents/family) because of my autism, NOT in spite of".
People have asked me "how did you overcome autism?"
My response: I don't. (Yes you heard it correctly, I don't). I don't overcome autism, I live with it. It is a part of me and who I am. I don't grow out of autism, I grow into it. I learn to embrace it.