I was recently asked to speak at at Autism Awareness Month event that was held by the exceptional education department of our local school system, and the audience was parents of autistic children. This is the transcript from that event, and is basically most of what I want to say about autism and neurodiversity all crammed into one post. But first some disclaimers: I am not perfect, I screw up all the time, and am still fumbling my way through this parenting thing.
I am also not an “expert,” nor am I Autistic* (see update), although I am neurodivergent. I am a mom and an advocate and a writer, and I learn through experience, by asking a lot of questions, and by doing a lot of research. (*UPDATE: A few months after I wrote this post I was unofficially identified as on the spectrum by a therapist. In my FORTIES. It was based upon her observations rather than diagnostic testing, but nevertheless it was a revelation.)
My perspective may also be different than yours, but one thing I have learned along this journey is to not devalue someone else’s opinion just because their situation isn’t the same as my own. We should be open to considering one another’s viewpoints. We also should avoid the danger of turning this into a competition of whose struggles are worse, and unfortunately we have all seen that happen.
(Image is inspired by the post “20 Things That Parenting a Child With Special Needs has Taught Me About Life in General.”)
We ourselves may have fallen prey to the dangers of comparison, by saying things like, “Well, at least your child can…”, or “You don’t know what it’s like to…” Friends, let me warn you that kind of thinking is a trap. Parenting is hard, I know that. Some days are exhausting and even sad. Life in general can be hard, and living with any sort of disability can be hard. But we are all in this together, and no matter where we are, or where our children are in the journey, we can learn from one another. Then when we get weary we have each other for support.
One way I try to help encourage other parents and support the Neurodiverse community is by writing and sharing my voice. I hope to help make the world a safer place for those who are different. I want to help de-stigmatize DIFFERENT. Because without our differences, the world would be VERY boring. Different is the new normal!
So I came up with the slogan: See Different, Be Different (image at top of post). Different is not bad, it’s not broken, or as Temple Grandin says, different is not less.