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April is World Autism Awareness Month, so I want to share this powerful video with you by a man who lives with high-functioning autism—or what he terms Asperger’s syndrome.
In the video, he speaks openly about the rejection he sometimes feels. His story started me thinking about some of the things I’ve learned about Asperger’s, autism, and the pain of rejection since my kiddo was diagnosed on the spectrum.
Here is a list of six things I believe to be true about autism spectrum disorder (ASD), based on what I have observed in my child’s life.
- People with ASD don’t always want to be alone. It’s a cruel misconception that people on the spectrum don’t crave social connection. It pains me to think of the number of times I’ve heard people, including educators and health professionals, tell me that my child prefers isolation. It isn’t true. I’ve seen how he lights up in the company of people who are engaged with him. The problem is that too many people eventually lose patience with his temperament or his narrow range of interests. Like the fellow in this video, he’s been rejected often and it hurts. He avoids rejection at the expense of relationship—I know, because he told me so.
- I believe that many people with ASD are highly attuned to rejection. They’ve experienced it so many times that they can see it coming a mile off. They don’t need to wait until someone says something as blatant as “f*ck off loser.” They’ve picked up on the warning signs long before it comes to that point and have retreated to a safe place, probably without even realizing it. If you’re waiting for an overt incident of bullying to occur against someone with ASD before acknowledging that it exists, then you lack a radar my friend.
- Blending is exhausting. When school is over, my kid is done. Don’t talk about after school activities. He’s had it with trying to conform and needs a break. One exception is improv class. He truly enjoys that—it seems to work and I’m not sure exactly why. Perhaps it’s the lack of structure or the attitude of the facilitators. It is one of the only activities that works. Summer camp, sports, and band were disasters. Too much conformity and too many rules, I suspect.
- It helps to have a sense of humour if you want to befriend someone on the spectrum, but use it respectfully. People get a lot of amusement out of watching Sheldon on “Big Bang Theory,” but life is nothing like a TV show. Few people with ASD are like Sheldon, who has an iron-clad ego, a well-paying job, and an immutable corps of friends. People on the spectrum experience rejection at school, at work, and at home—and it hurts them and their families. And there is nothing funny about that.
- People with ASD aren’t disabled—society is. I worked for many years with people with spinal cord injuries. They taught me that there is little they cannot do when barriers in their environment and people’s limiting attitudes have been removed.
- Knowing someone with ASD—or anyone who is wired differently from you—is a gift. If I had one wish, it would be that our kids would grow up loving one another rather than judging one another. What a gift it is to have someone with ASD in your class, on your sports team, or as part of your family. It’s a golden opportunity to learn respect and inclusion—skills that are sorely lacking in our world. So, I would have to agree with everything the fellow in this video says about rejection. Rejection is the story of his life. Rejection is the story of my kiddo’s life. You might know someone who could say the same.The question is, what will you do to help rewrite their story?