There’s a great deal of talk about acceptance regarding autism this month, which is a wonderful shift from all the talk about “awareness”. I actually prefer the words “embracing” and “celebrating”, as acceptance can too easily be seen as passive. My evolving understanding of acceptance is anything but passive! Embracing and celebrating all that each of us is, without trying to mold ourselves to be something we aren’t, are better words to describe what I believe and try to practice on a daily basis. This concept applies to parenting, but also to my own goals as an individual. What if instead of doing everything in our power to force our autistic children to behave like some imaginary and impossible non-Autistic version of themselves, we instead encouraged them to be the very best Autistic them they could be?
So how do I do this with my wonderfully talented daughter? By recognizing what she’s good at, for starters. One of my brothers is an astrophysicist and the other is a microbiologist. My mother was a chemist, my father a financial advisor. I don’t have any interest in either science or finance. Had someone said to me ~ your most successful same age peers all love and excel at these two things, therefore you should too ~ and I was then forced to take classes in science and economics, I would have been miserable. Had I then been shamed for my interests in art, design, literature and writing, I would have been more than miserable, I would have been despondent and heart broken.
I don’t want to spend my life crunching numbers and peering through microscopes. Hand me a book on quantum physics and I fall asleep. The only good that comes from giving me books like that to read, is the money I save on unfilled Ambien prescriptions. I will never be, nor do I want to be, a scientist or economist. I accept this fact. I don’t feel ashamed. I don’t feel the need to feign interest in. I have other interests and talents; I focus on those and am very happy. That’s what we all do. We avoid the things we aren’t great at, and have little interest in, and focus on what does interest us. If we were lucky, we also had parents who encouraged, supported and cheered us on in pursuing those interests.
Why should any of this be different for either of my children? I want Emma to be the very best “Emma” she can be. Which means I need to support her interests and find the best way for her to communicate, because without a means to communicate, she will be limited by what she can pursue. Since verbal language is tough for her and typing seems to access a part of her brain verbal language cannot, we do all we can to support her typing. How she communicates is not as important as that she be able to.
Emma loves to perform and sing. We have a variety of microphones and an amp for her to use. She loves books. In between reading her favorite Miss Spider book, I am teaching her about arachnids, what they eat, how long they live and how they spin webs. Spiders are actually fascinating. Even though Emma loves her Miss Spider books because one of them includes an electrical storm (lesson plan coming on that topic soon!) and Miss Spider has a great many big emotions, which Emma likes to act out, complete with pretend tears and cries of anguish, there are a great many topics I can piggy back on, to teach her about things like – the weather, electrical storms, emotions, pretend and real, not to mention drama, theatre and playwriting.
Last night Emma wanted to watch a really bad movie that she’d seen her brother Nic watching, about a two-headed shark that attacks a group of teenagers. And despite my misgivings about the content (and just awful quality of the movie in general – the acting is phenomenally bad, the shark is the best thing in the movie) it was age appropriate and I figured I could turn it off if it got too gory and awful. There was a great deal of emoting and blood curdling screams, which Emma thought hilarious. She kept giggling and saying, “Watch out, the shark is going to come and eat you! Oh no! He’s going to bite your arm off!” Then she pretended to bite me. Bad movie, great time had by all and I now have another topic (sharks) for a lesson plan I intend to create. Just as my daughter is showing a certain fascination with sharks, her mother has a similar fascination with zombies!
Be the very best YOU, you can be. Now that is something I can embrace and celebrate!