Every year (if not every day), my relationship to and understanding of Autism and people with Autism changes dramatically. This year, I have learned so much and I am constantly reevaluating my own practices, analysis, and therapeutic approaches. I often refer to how much I learn from my students, clients, friends, mentors and colleagues with Autism and how lucky I feel to have the opportunity to work with them every day. They teach me so many things, but when I try to sum it up, it is all related to “humanity”. I learn about being human and interacting with other humans. They teach me a lot about how humans expect each other to act, what happens when our expectations aren’t met or when we come across someone who shatters those expectations and helps us build new ones, and sometimes most importantly, what it means to be someone who is a daily challenge to the status quo.
“Autism Awareness” is a tricky concept. I don’t think there are very many people left in this society who haven’t heard the term and maybe know a person or two who have Autism. What is tricky about “spreading awareness” is that we are often listening to people who don’t have Autism try to explain what it is like to be someone with Autism. I do this. All the time. It is a big part of my job. I LOVE telling people about what I understand to be true about Autism. I also love when someone tells me I’m wrong. It’s challenging. It’s human.
More and more, I am working with Autistic individuals to support them in learning to express their own thoughts, opinions, and experiences with other people. Obviously, “communication” has always been a big part of the goals we work on in school, at home, and in therapy, but the content and purpose of those goals was always related to expressing basic wants and needs, social commenting, and responding to questions. When we made good progress there, we’d move on to asking questions, and conversational turn taking. This year, I’ve taken the time to teach students how to use formal language to teach others, and informal language to write a “tweet”, to “react” to something on Facebook, to take and share selfies, to write a blog, to share opinions on academic and political topics, to make and interpret jokes, etc. I’m encouraging my students to learn vocabulary that allows them to participate in conversations about topics they are passionate about. I find that their perspectives are creative, thoughtful, detailed, and provocative.
I am so thoroughly boggled by the mind/body disconnect and I am reading everything I can get my hands on to understand it. There are many days when I want more than anything to be able to snap my fingers and have all my students be able to communicate openly with me and with anyone/anything else they might want to communicate with or about. But, then I think…would they be the same? Would she still notice all the tiny nuances about the coastal tides? Would he still be so passionate about speaking and advocating for the animals who can’t speak for themselves? Would he still show his love for people with those sweet, gentle cheek touches? There are so many things about Autism that I’m not willing to change. I don’t want it to be cured or fixed. I want to help provide them access to important parts of the environment and community. I want to support the rest of the world to learn how to see and value people with Autism for who they are, as people. I want to help people with Autism break down career barriers, stereotyping, and public fear. I want to help them learn to use resources and advocate for those resources to maintain sensory regulation. I want to hear them and understand them. I want them to hear me and understand me. I want them to have strong, loving, meaningful friendships and relationships. I want them to feel proud of who they are and who they might become. Aren’t these things we all want for people we love? Isn’t this just another example of humanity?