I recently read a review of a film of which I cannot remember the name and now that I want to, of course, cannot find to save my very life. However, there were a few lines that struck such a chord with me that I jotted them down because I knew there would come a day I would want to discuss the essence of the film. It was a documentary featuring people who live on the autism spectrum. Here are the lines I could not forget:
The point, which is never stated, but the whole of Larsen’s film embodies, is that we are all on some sort of spectrum, whatever our diagnoses or lack of them, each with a uniquely wired brain and an individual way of interpreting the world and coping with it, and each with a gift. (“I believe that oddness results in cultural content,” says John, a fiddler with Asperger’s.) However much we seem to speak the same language, we are all foreigners, struggling to communicate.
How interesting. Perhaps it stuck with me because I have said for months now as we learn more about the intricacies of autism and autism spectrum disorders that I think we all have a little bit of autism in us. We all have tendencies which could align us with descriptions in the latest disease systems manual which doctors use to diagnose thousands of children on an annual basis. I know some people think I’m crazy when I say such things and others surely think I’m merely making excuses for my son, but I simply could not be more serious. We all have autistic traits. Some are just more defined than others. And some of us struggle more than others.
We have five children ranging in age from 4 to 15 years. Each one of them is gifted in at least one area, but each one of them also struggles in at least one area. They are all our children, created by the same God, using the same genetic stock of the same two parents, but they are all so very different when it comes to strengths and weaknesses. Even our twins, while very similar in some areas, are as different as night and day in others. We are each uniquely wired and have our own individual way of interpreting the world and coping with it.
We opted not to participate in any formal therapies for Ben this summer. We’ve worked on communication and turn-taking at home, much the same as he had worked with therapists during the school year. We have been blessed with several multiple exchange conversations. We’ve worked on independence of some basic skills most kids master much younger than him and we’ve seen him blossom into the kid that causes his parents to sigh and count to 10 while remembering what a blessing this is, as he insists that, “NO, it’s MIIIIIIIIIIIINE!!” which, roughly translated means, “Back off, it’s my turn and I’m going to do this on my own.” We’ve witnessed him so intently playing with toys as they were intended that he goes an entire afternoon without even asking to watch a movie. We’ve quite possibly read him more stories this summer than ever before simply because there are days now that he actually wants us to read to him and will sit and listen and study the pages instead of fighting to get down cover to cover. And we’ve noticed he wants to play with us and his siblings. You read that right – he WANTS to play with us. But, he just doesn’t understand how, so he reverts to what he knows and invites us into his world. But this is huge-he invites us in! He may not do things the same way or at the same speed as we do, but he has made so much progress this summer, it almost makes my heart skip a beat to sit here and think through it all at once and think about not only how far he has to go, but more importantly in this moment, how far he has come. There are still struggles, concerns and fears of the unknowns and the what-ifs, but there is also great reassurance in the amazing little guy he is.
So here’s the thing … as we wrap up this summer with the greatly anticipated Avon Fat Steer Show, and kick off the new school year next week, if you’re a local, we’re sure to cross paths. Can I ask a favor? If you see us struggling in a moment, can you give us a little extra time? A lot of times, all he needs is just a few extra seconds to process things. His brain works amazingly well, it just doesn’t always work the same way ours does, or at the same speed. Sometimes, he just needs an extra 10 seconds to think something through before he can do it. He’s not being naughty or defiant or spoiled. He’s just thinking it through. If there’s too much commotion, noise, or visual stimulation, he may cry, or shout. Again, he’s not being naughty, defiant, or spoiled. He’s just coping with all the stimulation in the only way he knows how. It may seem strange that someone would combat noise with making his own noise, but we are not inside his brain and what makes sense to him, may not always make sense to us. And we have to be okay with that. Could you also be okay with that? Could you also remember that “we are all on some sort of spectrum, whatever our diagnoses or lack of them, each with a uniquely wired brain and an individual way of interpreting the world and coping with it, and each with a gift.”? If we can all remember that, we will have made great strides in becoming aware of autism, understanding how it affects those who live on the spectrum, and accepting them for the truly amazing people they are created to be.