Revisit: Different not less
I am revisiting this post because World Autism Awareness Day is coming up next week, and April is Autism Awareness month. This post is still one of the most important and personal posts I have written, and I felt like revisiting it.
This was published last year in October.
“Different, not less.”
Those are the words spoken and written by Eustacia Cutler, who is the remarkable mother of the equally brilliant Temple Grandin.
Eustacia raised Temple when autism was diagnosed as childhood schizophrenia. Eustacia was encouraged to place Temple in an institution for her own good. Eustacia was told, by more than one professional, that Temple was ‘the way she was’ because she was somehow defective as a mother, not emotional enough, not loving enough. That was the time Temple was born into. The age of the rise of psychiatry in the 1950s.
As I see it, the awareness surrounding autism today is a significant result of the work Eustacia did as a mother, an advocate, as a champion for Temple. And by speaking with Temple all around the world, she has brought comfort, hope, understanding and above all, awareness to countless thousands of people.
This relates to my first instinct, in December 2007, when the child psychologist drew her chair closer to mine, exchanged intense eye contact with her colleagues, and I knew, oh, did I know what was coming, and so I braced myself, then she spoke those words “we think your son meets the criteria for autism” and while my heart split in two, not knowing what I know now, not knowing any of the hope, joy and triumph that was yet to come, and all I felt was guilt, shame and above all, fear, all I wanted was to say it out loud. Even though the words stuck in my throat, jumbled and choked with agony and grief, I still wanted to say it. My son has autism.
What I know now, above anything else, is that autism makes my son, different, not less.
That is why my ‘First Rule of Autism Club’ piece is so important to me. It holds all of that emotion and more. That is why I take such pride in sharing it, in giving voice to our journey.
Today, there is an awful lot of attention about bullying. We need to work together, as the adults, to help the children and teenagers of the world understand that everyone is equal, everyone is to be celebrated, everyone deserves love and respect, everyone is a glorious miracle. We are all different, but no one, NO ONE is less.
We don’t just need tolerance and compassion. We need patience, we need open hearts and open minds.
All the brilliance of every human being gets eclipsed by social ideals of ‘same’. Why is it that when we speak of development, we end up comparing? It starts in utero – the predictions, the assumptions, the expectations of and on the being yet to emerge. Who will they be like? What hopes do you have for them? What dreams will you dream for them?
Of course we all want our children to be outstanding, special. But why don’t we step back and remember that they already are. They are already a miracle. Everything else is a bonus.
Everyone has strengths. Why do we rate them based on how overt they are? Simple things, pure things are over looked so much today. The gift of a smile, a look, a touch, a hug?
I am thinking a lot about what I value. And about what is valued by our society. These are uncomfortable thoughts but if we don’t at least acknowledge that this is a discussion that must be had, then nothing will change.
I believe it is possible to make a difference. I believe it is possible to change someone’s life, simply by listening, and paying attention to those around us. It starts with me. I get to choose how I treat myself, my partner and my children. Then we see who else gets touched by the ripples we create.
I know the thought is exhausting, but every encounter we have matters. I am trying to make as many of them as possible to be respectful.
So I am back to ‘it starts with me’.
We need to teach that to every child.
And to a few grown-ups, too.
“There is an exquisite melody in every heart. If we listen closely we can hear each others song.”