If you’ve been a part of the autism community for any length of time, there is a very good chance that you’ve come under attack for what you think, the decisions you’ve made, what you believe or very simply, for who you are. This is, sadly, a fact of being a part of this great community.
I say “great” because I’ve seen some amazing things such as great new friendships, new programs being born, wonderful learning opportunities and of course, mutual support. Just being there for each other can make all the difference in the world sometimes.
Unfortunately, this community, for all its strengths, requires a certain amount of armour. If not armour, then strength and conviction. At some point, inevitably, you will be attacked and that attack will come from within the very community that is supposed to be so “great.”
For most people, this happens early on as your child is diagnosed with autism and you struggle to understand and even worse, struggle to accept it. The words you choose to use in this time, no matter how carefully chosen, will be turned back on you and made to cut you like a knife. Wrong decisions, grim outlooks, uncertainty, fear, pain… these are things that nearly every parent ever has gone through when their child is born to be anything but perfect healthy and diagnosis free and yet, very quickly, we forget these things and turn to judge harshly the parents that fallow behind us.
From there, just about anything you can say or do will be cause for attack. C-sections or natural birth, cloth diapers or not, breast feeding or not, vaccines or not, acceptance or cure, medication or not, therapy or not, special education or not and so on… the list does not end. And don’t think that you’re safe by not having an opinion one way or the other on any particular topic because then you’ll just be attacked for that.
The trick to overcoming this mentality is in recognizing its source, passion. When people are talking about children, especially their own children, they get extremely passionate. We become so protective that we don’t even realize that we’re slowly becoming monsters as we try to protect every child over the entire planet from anyone that might not think or do what we would, even if it’s their own parents.
We must recognize this passion in ourselves and monitor it so that we don’t let it consume us but we also must recognize it in each other so that when we see someone lash out, we can understand where it comes from and that it’s not personal.
Our passion is one of our greatest strengths as it leads us into battle against the governments, the education systems, the medical systems and anyone else that would try to get in the way of the services that our children need but it can also become one of our greatest weaknesses if we let it divide and even hate each other.
We must pledge to ourselves and to each other, all together, that our story is our own, our beliefs are our own, our decisions are our own and our lives are our own too. We won’t all travel the same path and that is ok. We might end up at the same destination and we might not and either way, that’s ok too. Every single person with autism, whether ourselves, our children or anyone else is different. That’s not just ok, that’s wonderful.
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “when you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism” and that’s what makes each story so valuable. How can anyone ever hope to understand autism or its level of diversity without being willing to listen to each person’s story and each person’s thoughts on it? No one should ever bully you into feeling like you can’t share or be who you are and conversely, you should never attempt to bully someone else into feeling bad about sharing or being who they are.
We can guide each other, lead each other and support each other without having to hate each other. We can educate each other without attacking each other. We can be a great community without the need for armour.
Harness your passion and focus it where it needs to be and learn to let it go when you need to. We all grow stronger when we work together. Our differing ideas and beliefs can lead to new ideas and to new beliefs. We can accomplish so much if only we stop trying to hurt each other.
I’ve seen a lot in this autism community over the years and the best and the worst of it were both powered by the same energy source, passion.
How will you use your passion?
Stuart Duncan is a man with Aspergers, 2 children (1 with autism, 1 without), an autism blogger, and creator of Autcraft, the first Minecraft server for children with autism.