Y’know, I think we’ve got it all wrong with our autie kids.
We are taught to view their supposed lack of social empathy as a Bad Thing.
Many of us are locked in an endless battle with our kids to extinguish undesirable behaviours that make life difficult, embarrassing, or inconvenient for us, but which the children themselves have no issue with.
But to what end?
Bob is perfectly happy to play the opening credits of a film over and over (and over), and I have to overcome my itch to force him out of his Happy Place to watch the film “normally.”
Why do we accept that we are supposed to train them, like little performing seals, to tick boxes on a psychology chart? It shouldn’t even occur to me to want to change his behaviour just because it makes me uncomfortable, and because I want him to be more like other kids. It’s actually deeply disrespectful of who he is.
He has no qualms about thrashing about like a small (but ridiculously handsome) rhino when he feels caged in a situation that he’s unhappy in. My initial reaction to this is sometimes embarrassment, but mostly I just wish I could express myself as freely. I have wasted so many hours of my life being bored into a coma at mandatory social occasions, and it would be wonderful to throw a tantrum and to scream, “Screw you, I’m outta here!!!”
And maybe to strip off while I’m at it.
Also, it’s a bit rich that I’m teaching Bob how to be “socially appropriate” when I bolt for cover at the mere whisper of a party …and when I’ve just replaced my perfectly respectable hallway light with a creation that can only be described as a purple, glittery disco-ball. (1970’s, how are ya?) I could teach Elton John a thing or two about left of centre garishness, but that’s who I am, and I feel free to express myself in my own home.
Bob is allowed to do the same.
But it occurred to me that this lack of social awareness could be a gift that allows the child to focus on what’s really important, without being imprisoned by worries about what the neighbours think.
That’s the X Factor that has allowed scientists to shine fiercely and artists to produce magnificent masterpieces. They simply weren’t concerned with who complied with what social rule. They just got on with what they were good at.
By interfering with Bob’s Happy Place, I could very well be damaging his development. So I don’t do it.
That’s not to say he has a free rein to engage in whatever behaviour pleases him whenever he feels the urge. I may be the youngest hippie in town, but I also don’t want to spend my pension fund bailing him out of prison for lewd behaviour. And he is made to do his homework under strenuous protest, because he is bursting with potential, and I would be letting him down by not pressing his gorgeous little nose to the educational grindstone.
So I won’t throw stones about not getting the social appropriateness thing. I’m living in a creaky old glass house of my own, but it has a really funky hallway light, so I like it fine the way it is.
About the Author: Jean describes herself as “an ordinary mum of 3 great kids, whose life became extraordinary when my youngest son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3.” This piece first appeared on her blog, Planet Autism, and is reprinted here by permission.