We are all told to be wary of who we open our hearts to, who we befriend, and even who we say hello to. For many of us, it is easy to be able to read the situation and the people we encounter; but for others it is not so easy. Many children and adults on the autism spectrum struggle learning how to act in different types of social situations. They often have the desire to interact with others, but may not know how, or when to or not to engage, and may be overwhelmed by the idea of new experiences- and may fail.
We are told to accept our differences, to stand up for ourselves, and to be proud of who we are. For many of us, it is simple to embrace all of ourselves. But for people with autism, they may struggle in knowing who they are; so it is hard to be all you can be if you don’t know yourself.
We are taught to live in a way that will define ourselves, and if we don’t others will do it for you. For many people, we can outgrow the labels given to us, but, unfortunately, for people with autism, the labels stick around a little longer, and a little stronger. Handicapped, sped, and the long overdue eradicated word, retard. Hearing these terms constantly throughout life is almost an invitation for people with autism to presuppose that “autistic” is all that they are and how all people see them.
Autism is a very big continuum that manifests itself differently in everyone. It can go from very severe, where the individual remains nonverbal, all the way up to brilliant scientists and engineers. Imagine a world without scientists and engineers? You probably can’t. This goes to show that the world needs all minds. Creative minds, boring minds, imaginative minds, gentle minds, and even crazy minds! Minds to help us move away from the fixed idea of “normal.”
If you think about it, what constitutes normal? What if the best compliment you ever received was “You are really normal.” Seems pretty lame to me. Instead, the desired compliments are, “You’re extraordinary” and “I love how different you are from everyone else.” It’s “you’re wonderful.” So if people want to be these things, why are so many people striving to be “normal”? Why are people pushing for people who are different than us to pour their individualism into a mold? People are so afraid of variety that they try and force everyone, even people who can’t, to conform to their idea of “normal.”
Normality overlooks the beauty that differences give us, and the fact that we are different doesn’t mean that one of us is wrong. It means that there’s a different kind of right. This year, and every year to come, I want to communicate just one thing to people who are put down because they have autism, it’s that you don’t have to be normal. You can be extraordinary. Because autistic or not, the differences that we have are a gift! Everyone has a gift inside of us, and in my opinion, the pursuit of normality is the ultimate sacrifice of potential. The chance for greatness, for progress and for change dies the moment we try to be like someone else, or try to make someone else change who they are.
With Autism Awareness Day being this past Friday, April 2, I want people to be able to recognize the problems at hand and reach a point where autism is not the exception, but the norm. I want to live in a world where all people are curious but never indifferent. A world where we have the courage to look all people in the eye, because by looking, we can open a whole world to someone else.