“Autistic People Should” not be pigeonholed

Much of what we do in life has to do with the confidence we have in our abilities. For some of us, we are born with a set of skills and a confidence about them. For others, our skills and our confidence must be nurtured and cultivated. Being told you cannot do something may be all the convincing you need to never try at all.

When I was in 8th grade, a very surly old nun told me I’d never get into the private Catholic school to which I was applying. I applied anyway and got in. I spent four years having fun and getting mostly Bs, but never really trying that hard. I went to a 4 year college and went on to get my Master’s degree in a competitive, writing intensive major. I graduated with a 4.0. It wasn’t until much later in my life that I realized I was actually smart. The quick (and thoughtless) assessment of one educator who only knew me “on paper” stuck with me my whole life. Her doubt in me germinated and became not only my self doubt, but also my internal drive.

I am tempted to seek out that nun and show her how her negativity didn’t break me, but motivated me to prove her wrong. But I suppose I would also be giving her some satisfaction or gratification that I’m not willing to relinquish.

I refuse to let anyone do that to my kids.

Assigning a set of “can” and “can’t dos” to autistic people, especially children who are so young and impressionable, can define the rest of their lives. Who are we to limit their potential? Autistic people have a capacity to learn and grow and change just like their neurotypical counterparts. Affixing a set of expectations and limitations onto a person simply because of their neurodiversity is prejudicial and dangerous.

I do not want my child placed inside a box. I do not want your expectations of him to be defined by his diagnosis. Get to know him. Learn about his challenges. Find a way to meet him in the middle. Because I guarantee, if you give him the opportunity to learn and a place in your heart, he will surpass your wildest expectations!

Ironically, we just finished reading the “Phantom Tollbooth” the other day, which both boys absolutely loved. In addition to being a quintessential childhood book, I loved the opportunity to teach Finn about the wordplay and double entendre in the book. At the end, when Milo completes the mission of bringing (the Princesses) Rhyme and Reason back to the Kingdom, he is given a hero’s reception:

“They’re cheering for you,” she said with a smile.
“But I could never have done it,” he objected, “without everyone else’s help.”
“That may be true,” said Reason gravely, “but you had the courage to try; and what you can do is often simply a matter of what you *will* do.”
“That’s why,” said Azaz, “there was one very important thing about your quest that we couldn’t discuss until you returned.
“I remember,” said Milo eagerly. “Tell me now.”
“It was impossible,” said the king, looking at the Mathemagician.
“Completely impossible,” said the Mathemagician, looking at the king.
“Do you mean—-” said the bug, who suddenly felt a bit faint.
“Yes, indeed,” they repeated together; “but if we’d told you then, you might not have gone—and, as you’ve discovered, so many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.”
And for the remainder of the ride Milo didn’t utter a sound.” 

― Norton JusterThe Phantom Tollbooth

If the difference between what you can do is simply a matter of what you will do, then I want to make sure my children will do anything they want!

This blog post was written in response to the flash blog movement entitled Autistic People Should. The blog was started in response to the atrocious things you can find by Googling “autistic people should.” One of the many horrible reverberations of the Newtown massacre. It is a drop in the bucket for the education and compassion of the world, but I am happy to join in.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead


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