If you’re the parent of a child (or children) who’s Autistic, or who you think might be, I want you to sit up and take particular notice of this post.
And if you’re not – well, I hope you’ll continue reading anyway. Because this post is all about advice, for the Autistic children who will grow up to be Autistic adults. Because they will, no matter what anyone tells you, and no matter what you yourself believe –always be Autistic, until the day, hopefully many, many years from now, they draw their final breath.
I know this for a fact because the Autistic child I never knew is me. Not knowing I was Autistic and living my life as if I wasn’t, didn’t change that reality – didn’t cause it to gradually fade away. Instead, it erupted in an explosion of Autistic burnout in my fifties, which led to my diagnosis.
But right now I want to spend some time talking to him – to me as a child – and in so doing talk to every parent and child out there who has some connection to Autism (well, at least to the ones who might stumble across this blog!).
“It’s okay to be quiet, to be shy, to not look people in the eyes. It’s even okay to want to do things on your own. It’s okay to want to watch TV all the time because it’s good company. It’s okay to trace instead of draw, or sing instead of dance. It’s okay to be better at some things and worse at others. It’s okay to come second – or even last. It’s okay to have trouble at school, to find it all boring, to not understand. It’s okay to ask questions if you have some, and it’s okay to not ask as well. It’s okay to be serious sometimes and sometimes to say the silliest things – to shout and scream and shriek and flail, to laugh, or cry, until your chest hurts. It’s okay to have too many friends or no friends at all because TV is your best friend anyway and there’s a whole entire world in there that is real, so everyone else can just shut up! It’s okay to be different than everyone tells you or expects you to be. ‘Different’ isn’t a synonym for ‘defective’ after all, or a reason for others to force you to change, or to be more like them. (What’s a synonym? Oh, you’ll learn that soon in school. Defective? Think ‘not perfect’. And you know what? None of us are perfect anyway so you can forget about that completely.) It’s okay to wear glasses at age five, and to have big curly hair and freckles. It’s okay to look exactly the way you do. Rules aren’t something you need to fear, and boundaries, they can show love, as long as they’re not in place to try and change who you really are. Remember to be kind to yourself because doing so will allow you to be kind to others, too. And try not to compare yourself or to make the mistake of doing something because you think you should – that’s a slippery slope, I can tell you. (Slippery slope? Don’t worry, it’ll make sense in a little while.) Try not to ever hide who you really are because that can mess you up, big time. Unless you feel like “hiding” is the only way you can be safe sometimes. And only choose people who choose you – you really don’t need the rest of them. Most of all, be patient, with your parents and your sister and your friends and your teachers, because being Autistic means that sometimes you’ll experience things in ways other people don’t, which can be frustrating when what you see or feel or know isn’t shared by them. And that can feel lonely, so very, very, very, very lonely, even worse sometimes than being all by yourself. But, happily, being Autistic also means that you have wonderful strengths that other people don’t and will never have. And, in time, you’ll learn what they are simply by living life the best way you can. It’s okay to be Autistic – now, and always. Even if sometimes it feels like the most confusing thing to be in the entire world. And finally, and most importantly, it’s okay to be You; the tiny, scared, Autistic kid I never knew.”
This story forms part of a series of blog posts written to coincide with the first year anniversary of my Autism diagnosis, each highlighting a key ‘takeaway’ from that first 12 months. I hope you enjoy reading them.
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