Scrolling through my Twitter feed with a cup of coffee firmly in hand is the usual way I start my mornings (a benefit of working from home). This morning I stopped short at a tweet from @HopeandHaven in answer to somebody else. The other person appears to have a wide spectrum of disorders, including autism, and obviously intended to make a positive sentiment about optimism and strength, but tagged autism under the umbrella term “Mental Illness.” HopeandHaven’s reply was simple and beautiful:
I agree with your sentiment but I don’t agree that autism is a mental illness. I am not ill. I am extraordinary.
“I am not ill. I am extraordinary.” Truly brave words. Have you looked at your autistic child and thought how extraordinary they are? Or have you been so focused and bogged down by the daily issues of raising a special needs child that you’ve never taken that step back to truly see them as they are?
Special needs or not, we are all extraordinary in our own way. We each have strengths and skills and good things to offer the world. It takes courage to not just recognize it in yourself but to declare it proudly and loudly to all that will listen. Because this world can be tough, and individuality and uniqueness are not always valued the way that they should be. But they should be, and you can help.
How? As with most things, by starting locally. As in, locally in your own household. By raising a child whose individuality is celebrated and not criticized. By recognizing your child’s successes and not giving too much weight to their failures. By using teachable moments and emphasizing learning experiences, but not overusing or overemphasizing them. Because everybody makes mistakes, and not just people with autism.
Autism is not an illness or a disease; your child is not a punishment or a curse. They are not ill; they are extraordinary.
Can you see that? Have you ever stood in wonder as your whiz kid performed complex equations in their head? Do you ever take for granted that your ultra-shy child can sit down at the piano and play any tune by heart? Does it matter that he can’t tie his shoes or that she only wants to wear the color blue? Are you so happy with the rules that life has made you follow that you want your own child restricted too?
Sure, society has guidelines and it’s our job as parents to prepare our children to live within them. To a point. It’s also our job as parents to teach our children to find happiness, isn’t it? So perhaps it’s time to leave our own ideas and expectations at the door and understand that their happiness will not come on our terms. Instead, their happiness is deeply rooted in the things they love to do and their ability to do them. Help clear their road of obstacles to reaching that happiness.
Make sure they know that they are not ill—they are extraordinary. And they can accomplish anything.