I work with autistic children. I work with some of the most amazing kids I have ever encountered in my life. These kids have made me grow to wonder. They have grounded me and have made me understood what is really important in life. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to live just one day in their minds. I joke with these children and tease them (in good fun of course) and I wonder how literally some of them take the things I say. I may pinch one of their noses and tell them I am going to take it home with me and shortly after I wonder what visual went through that child’s head after I said that. Did they picture me carrying their nose in my pocket and pulling it out to lay on my dresser at home? Autism is seen by so many as a deficit when it truth it is just a difference….it is this mind-blowing, wonderous difference. We know so much and so little about it.
I admit that when I work with these children I sometimes struggle. I struggle with some of them conveying themselves as being a blank slate while others seem to lack any sort of emotion or social “normalcy”. I grew up in a household where love was shown each and every day. Hugs and kisses were (and still are) just something natural that we did and it never felt weird or forced. My job has grounded me and has allowed me to ease myself from passing judgment on others before I know their story. Some of these children might seem to be blank slates but I truly believe that to be furthest from the truth. I was talking to a friend (who is also a coworker) the other day and told her that I (along with most people I work with) have to worst habit of talking about the child to the parent/guardian or even to other coworkers right in front of the child. We have talked about them as if they weren’t right there or as if they could not possibly understand anything about our “adult” conversation when in truth we have no idea what could be going through the child’s mind. Just because some of these children have little or no verbal skills does not mean that they do not have a brilliant mind. Just because some make strange noises or flail different parts of their bodies that does not mean that they lack intelligence or sensibility. Imagine to yourself not being able to speak and having people talk about you in a manner that made you out as lesser of a person….as a flaw. Imagine not being able to defend your brilliance. We may struggle in understanding their “lack” of emotion and we sometimes forget that they are also struggling to understand all of the different emotions they convey. What they see as so simple may be so very complex to us….or at least that is what our emotions make it seem like. I sometimes envy those that see the definitive answer because my mind and my emotions can sometimes be maddening.
I started writing this piece because I just watched the movie Temple Grandin and I felt inspired. If you don’t know who Temple Grandin is I strongly recommend watching the movie and doing your research because this woman is the picture of brilliance. She did not speak her first words until she was 4 years old and doctors tried convincing her mother to put her in a mental institution because autism at that time was viewed as a mental illness….as a form of schizophrenia. Her mother could not bring herself to do that and Temple grew up to be a Masters of Science Graduate and her research on cattle and the slaughtering process was published in many scientific journals. One may think that this type of research would be a real snoozefest but when you watch the movie and learn the thought process behind the research you quickly learn that although the emotions of this woman may not be conveyed on the outside and given out freely to those around here that surely does not mean that they do not exist. This woman with autism showed great compassion for animals and had an eagerness to learn and she had mentors that guided her throughout her life. She may not have always expressed her gratitude and caring for these people, but it was knowingly there….no words were needed.
This blog entry did not start with a question and really had no set direction to take. I started writing because I felt lucky. I felt lucky to have been given an opportunity that has allowed me to “see” into another person’s world….to see a world so different than my own.
“You see the world in ways that others can’t” ~Temple Grandin