Find the four-leaf-clover in the picture. Can you spot it? Did you get a rush, knowing there was one? Was it easy to find, or did it take you time? Did knowing there was a special one in there make you appreciate this particular patch all the more, or is a three-leaf-clover the same to you as a four-leaf?
Children with Autism (an over abundance of awesomeness) look just like everyone else. Unlike other disabilities, genetic disorders, syndromes, viruses…etc. there are no outward differences that make people with Autism stand out in a crowd. However, their emotional and physical responses and understandings of situations, makes them stand out because they are seen as “not normal.”
A four-leaf-clover is renowned for its luck bringing. (It is said that finding one is good luck). But what makes this clover any different than the rest? The fact that it has a genetic mutation that made it form another leaf. It sticks out like a sore thumb because it is “different”, and yet we treasure it for its difference. We seek it out and celebrate its existence. So why can’t we do that with people who have Autism? Their gifts are numerous and can make such a positive impact on the world. Many people that have contributed to the sciences, arts, and business world (etc.) have come out as having Autism. Anthony Hopkins just came out recently, saying that he has Autism and used it to copy peoples emotions for roles. And yet, it is still seen in the negative dark. I don’t want to say negative light, because not enough light has been shed on it for a long enough period of time for people to get used to it. People are still scared and confused about Autism. They don’t know why it happens or how to cure it. And if there is one thing people are good at, it’s trying to fix things that aren’t broken and cure things that can’t be cured.
It drives me insane when people say “people with Autism are no different then anyone else.” I get that they are trying to say that people with Autism are still people. And yes, that is true. But they ARE different. They are SO VERY DIFFERENT. Saying that they are like everyone else is ignorant and doesn’t help. When my son first got diagnosed, I had a very ignorant person tell me “treat him the same as anyone else, because he’s the same person he was before the diagnosis.” This is so incredibly hurtful and just not true. I can’t treat him the same as anyone else because he isn’t and never will be.
Say you have 3 kids running around a tree, playing tag. Two of the children are NT (neuro-typical) and the other one has Autism. The one with Autism runs up to join, but is unsure what to do. He tries to run around the tree like everyone else and is soon “tagged.” But instead of running after the next kid, he laughs and runs around the tree, without targeting anyone else to be “it.” At this point, the other two children see that he doesn’t understand and decide to make him into a “monster” while they run from him. He continues to chase them, unaware that they are taking advantage of him and his lack of understanding, while he thinks they are just running and playing. They start yelling “monster” and point at him while running away. They snicker and laugh and he laughs while running after them. From then on, whenever they see him, they call him “monster” and run away from him. He tries to talk to them, but they always run away and yell “monster.” He doesn’t understand why they never talk to him, he doesn’t understand why they laugh at him, he doesn’t understand that they are making fun of him and avoiding him. Instead, he calls himself “monster” and tells his mom he likes it.
Anyone see anything wrong with this scenario? Which is a true story, by the way.
Little Man with Autism is sitting in his seat in the shopping cart while he and his mom wait in line at the grocery check out. Another little boy in the line next to them is hiding under his coat. The little boy jumps out and shouts “boo!” scaring the daylight out of the Little Man with Autism. Instead of realizing that the little boy is playing “peek a boo” just like the Little Man with Autism does at home, the Little Man with Autism gets scared and cries. He now associates EVERY child with the one who scared him and becomes TERRIFIED of every child he sees. From then on, whenever he sees a child; any age, any gender, any race, wearing anything, at any store, he hides his face in his mom’s legs and refuses to come out. Shopping becomes almost impossible (because mom has to carry him while shopping and pushing a cart around) and “socializing” (which everyone claims is SOOO important), becomes impossible. For the next 6 months, the mom and his ABA therapist spend their time trying to show him that kids are good and can be friendly.
Does that sound “normal” to you? Should the mom have been like “hey, it’s ok, it’s just a kid playing peek a boo,” and continued on like normal? Yeah, that doesn’t work. You know what DID work? Realizing he was categorizing all children with that one child. He was generalizing, which is something that all children with Autism struggle with. So instead of treating him like a “normal” child, the mom showed absolute patience with him. She started out by holding him and helping him cover his ears. Then she removed her hands after a few weeks and let him get used to the sounds of the store. Then she helped him slowly remove himself from her neck, legs, stomach, wherever he was hiding. Then she slowly started to wave and smile at other kids and showed him it was OK to communicate with people you don’t know. After awhile she started prompting him to wave to kids, which he reluctantly and cautiously did. Slowly she moved onto prompting him to say “hi” to them. And after 6 months, he naturally started to do it on his own. It took 6 months for him to be comfortable enough to wave to children he didn’t know. It took him 6 months to not be terrified of every child he saw, simply because that one child had jumped out and scared him.
Children with Autism aren’t normal. They are not a regular clover in the patch. They are absolutely beautiful and remarkably special. They are that magical four leaf clover that only the lucky can find. They stand out horribly and marvelously. My 3 year old knew the alphabet (upper and lower case letters) before he was 2. He knows all his shapes, colors, a laundry list of animals, can count to 100, knows over 100 words in sign language, and is learning to read. He’s awesome at memorization, puzzles, hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and is incredibly affectionate. His gifts are numerous and so wonderful. But none of that will matter to his peers or to the world. He has a hard time expressing his emotions and needs, because he is still working on talking (he has Severe Apraxia). He has a hard time understanding peoples emotions and where they come from. He has activities that he likes and things that he hates. The world doesn’t understand his lack of ability to assimilate, and that is where the friction stems from.
Everyone thinks there should be a “normal.” They think everyone should be treated the same and as such, act the same. But they don’t deserve to be treated like everyone else, they deserve to be treated in a way that is appropriate to their limits, needs, wants and abilities. They deserve to have their limits stretched, but not broken. They deserve to be held on their terms, to be loved in a way that makes them comfortable. They deserve to be taught in a way that they can understand. They deserve praise for their victories, and coaching on their failures. They deserve absolute patience and understanding. They can’t fit into the “normal” mold and that is FINE! They don’t NEED to. There is no reason for them to ever be anything less than the absolute awesome that they are.