Autism 101 is a series to dispel misconceptions about Asperger’s and Autism in general. I write this post with the help of my 7 year old son, Brady. I could not express these opinions without his input or approval. This is a record of our experience. I am not an expert. I am just a parent telling my story. P.S. I am not left-handed.
I work in a school and I have an autistic child and a neurotypical child at home, so this is a word I come across from time to time and it’s a word we use at home to talk about Brady and Max.
People with autism (ASD) are neurodiverse and people without autism are neurotypical.
A good way to think about neurodiversity is to think about right handed v. left handed. Most people are right handed. Which hand you prefer does not make you a better person, but for a while, lefties had a hard time in grade school and it was considered a bad thing to be left handed. Lefties were forced to switch, but their brains always preferred the dominant hand.
When Brady asked me what it meant to have Asperger’s, I told him the best parts of it. “You are good at math, art, music, reading. You have a great memory. You are good at video games.” I told him he was a born scientist. He knows about his less appealing traits too. He has a hard time with change, crowds and surprises. Being out in the world is exhausting for him and if he doesn’t manage his energy he melts down.
Part of autism means he can’t process things unconsciously, the way most of us do. He processes things consciously, which makes life tiring when he is surrounded by new experiences. This is why it is considered a disability. That is why he does strange things sometimes. His mind is overloaded. If you were very, very tired you would act the same way. He just gets there quicker.
So this disability brings gifts as well, and since we get good advice from friends in the know, we get along okay. In Brady’s case, his likes and dislikes are sharply defined and have not changed much since he was born. That makes him pretty easy to understand. So, Brady thought that his way is better.
Now where does that leave my son Max? Max is smart, funny, friendly and active. He can run up to any kid anywhere and play with them–which in our house looks amazing. He is BRAVE. Brave is not the same as reckless, he does things he is afraid to do and does not cry. He notices everything going on around him. He’s observant and a natural leader. He is gentle with animals. He loves to build things and play with cars. However, like most 4 year olds, he can’t read, do multiplication and knows as much about outer space as you would expect.
And like most younger brothers, he wants to keep up with his big brother in all ways.
Brady: Our sun is a star…
Max: our moon is the sun.
Brady: no, Io is a moon, Callisto is a moon
Max: look at that small dog,
Brady: I can’t think of other moons but there are more
Max: water bottle is a moon —
Brady has a hard time playing with other kids, but can speak with authority about the natural world (but who cares? He’s 7). Max is a social genius who still doesn’t know his alphabet (but who cares? He’s 4) How to explain neurodiversity in a way that shows that each boy is doing just what they are supposed to do with the brains God gave them.
A neurotypical person is like a sunset. Sunsets are common, you see one every day. Sunsets have long stripes of thin color but every night, the color changes and they look different. Sunsets are like a neurotypical child with many interests, superficial and varied. Surprises, crowds, recess, parties, group games, team sports, don’t get in the way of a neurotypical child’s desire to play and have fun. They can blow things off, shake things off, adapt and are usually up for anything as long as they ate right and slept right.
You don’t see a rainbow every day (except if you know where to look). Rainbows are always the same, following a rigid set of rules and they don’t go out of their comfort zone. A neurodiverse child doesn’t fit in, they stand out. They have quirks. If you understand the quirk, the strangeness goes away and you are left with something that out of the ordinary that is beautiful and necessary.
Growing up is hard on a regular child. On a neurodiverse child in large group settings at schools or daycare, it can be pretty tough. It’s important to remember that once you are an adult, you can dictate your environment. Things like recess and an insistence on conformity fall away as you mature. Adults value independence, especially when it is coupled with courtesy. What I like to see in my students and in my children is Be Yourself.