An unhappy emailer wants me to rewrite Ten Things after “getting the story from real autistic people” rather than “assuming half of it.” Of course, the inference that my son’s autism and the 7,700 days we’ve spent together isn’t real raises my mother-bear hackles. The writer further scolded me with “here’s a little unknown timbit [sic] too, people with autism are all different.”
That each person with autism is unique is not a little known tidbit; it’s a given. In the Preface to my book, I wrote that my Ten Things “won’t and can’t possibly apply in total to all children with autism. Rather, you will see these characteristics in degree that varies from child to child, and from hour to hour, day to day, and year to year in an individual child.”
The chasm between my views and experiences and those of my emailer illustrate the truth about autism—that there are few absolutes truths. How could there be?
I’ve known young people with autism who have many friends, a few friends, no friends. People with autism who are nonverbal and some don’t know how or when to stop talking. People with autism who are highly gifted in music, and some who are tone deaf. Some, talented artists while others struggle to hold a pencil or brush. Some challenged by significant gross motor and vestibular issues while others enjoy competitive sports and outdoor adventures.
Here are three of my truths about autism:
Your truth is the truth you inhabit.
Your truth does not negate the truths of others, or vice versa.
Your truth can change over time. This does not make either truth less genuine.
“Speak your truth quietly and clearly,” advises The Desiderata. “and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.”
A speech therapist I know once mused, “I honestly think that a lot of people never make it out of that middle-school stage of quasi-concrete-abstract thinking, and that’s why we’re in the messes we’re in, around the world, all the time. So many people don’t seem to have the capacity or maybe the nurturing to understand that things aren’t black and white, and that change happens. That you can get inside someone else’s head and think about things the way they do, and that might even change your own ideas.”
Or your own truths.
Autism—one word, many truths. What’s yours?