THE WRITTEN WORD
A Good Question
The other day my sweet, wonderful daughter sighed, ‘Mom, I spend so much time learning how to relate to neuro typical people. How come they don’t spend time learning how to relate to me?’
A neuro typical person, or an NT, is someone who is not on the autism spectrum. Some people might call them ‘normal’. My daughter and I just call them different from us. We are aspies. Normal is relative.
It’s funny she asked me that question, because just last week I was wondering the same thing. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if there were a class in school, from the very beginning, where people learned what it means to be autistic in a world where we are the minority? How it feels. Why we act the way we do. Why we get overwhelmed. Why we get so nervous and exhausted trying to be social. Why we have a hard time understanding what NT’s find easy. And why we find easy what NT’s can’t understand. Why we just don’t seem to see eye to eye.
What a wonderful world that would be. And, wouldn’t it be beautiful if people didn’t only choose to spend time with those who were more like themselves, but also made room to socialize with the folks many people brush aside? And not just ‘to be nice’. But, to truly enjoy the differences we all have. I’m not saying we all have to be BEST friends or spend tons and tons of time together. But…friends. Why can’t we be friends?
I asked my gal, ‘What would you want people to know? What would you teach people about folks with aspergers?’ She mostly spoke of her social difficulties. How she gets nervous around people she doesn’t know and tends to go silent. That she has a difficult time starting conversations and prefers NT’s to get the conversation going and she’ll follow. That just because she’s quiet and has a hard time making conversation doesn’t mean she doesn’t WANT to talk and socialize. She just doesn’t know how. She very much wants friends. And she wants to try new things. She is just afraid. Afraid to be laughed at. Afraid to get pushed aside.
When you’ve been pushed away so many times, you start to expect it. You expect not to be liked. To be either ignored or laughed at. So, any attempt you’ve made at learning how to be ‘like everyone else’ is generally met with a crashing fail. We just can’t wrap our heads around what it means to be ‘typical’. We try. God knows we try. I remember trying so hard to be like everyone else when I was in middle and high school. I just couldn’t follow. And, kids would get so annoyed and even angry with me, and I could never figure out what I did or what about me was so bothersome.
For years I have ‘role played’ with my gal to try to help her with communication skills. Not that mine are great, mind you. But I have age on my side and acquired knowledge, and I wanted her school experience to be better than mine. I’ve written lists for her with all kinds of ‘do this’ and ‘don’t do that’. I’ve bought her books and assigned chapters for her to read then talk to me about. We’ve talked, screamed, cried, and stewed at each other. All in the name of ‘help’. In the name of ‘I wish someone had done this for me’.
Then a few days ago, I got a firm pulling. A thought that took over.
‘Who is Lilly?’
She’s my daughter. My first born. And she’s an aspie.
‘But, who IS she?’
Lilly. My Lilly. My baby. She’s the amazing girl who made me a mom. She’s the kid with the fabulous, thick curly hair. The gal with the perfect freckles. She has an amazing voice. An actress. She has the best sense of humor. She laughs and smiles most of the day. She sings constantly. The young lady who just got her license and her first job. Someone who can teach herself how to play virtually any musical instrument. She loves cats. She’s a gamer. Loves transformer movies and Harry Potter. An unbelievable artist. A loyal friend. A pizza lover. A gecko mom. A gal who loves school and loves to learn. She loves to read AND write books. A kid who LOVES combing the beach for shells. Loves body surfing in the waves. She enjoys walking in the woods with our dog. She loves frogs, lizards, and snakes. She stands up for the underdog and social justice. Likes funky clothes and big, big earrings. She’s a kid worth getting to know.
Then my next thought came crashing in…My girl is a kid worth getting to know. Just the way she is.
I think there is a fine line between trying to help someone fit in and trying to change them. And, I don’t think my ‘help’ has been very helpful. My girl is awesome. I don’t want her to change.
Folks like Lilly shouldn’t have to exert so much energy trying to fit in. We are made for more than just fitting in. We are made for relationship. Just like any other person. We are worth it. All of us. And, I truly feel like the folks who actually try to get to know us spectrum people, who really do take the ‘not so easy path’ of spending extra time and energy to really know us…well…those people are a truly special breed sent by God. There is no other explanation. It certainly takes a little extra effort. But, that effort is absolutely not lost to us. We see it. We may not be able to see subtle social cues, but we see that extra intention. And, to people who generally aren’t invited to parties, or the popular kid hang outs, or the big pre-dance photo shoot. That effort is everything. It’s love. And everyone deserves to feel loved.
Every kid is worth the extra effort. Every kid is worth getting to know.
Kristen Feighery is a self-taught folk artist, originally from southeastern Kentucky. She spends her days painting anything not nailed down (and some things that are), chauffeuring one daughter to sporting events, having tea parties with the other, and writing a blog. She's also married to a rather large Irishman and has a pub in her house. Really.