- Life is too short to miss the interesting little details! People with autism tend to notice the little things in life. Sometimes it’s because their senses are more in tune with their surroundings. Other times it’s because the rest of us are too busy looking at the big picture, or “forest,” to see individual “trees.” Spending time with a person with autism can raise our awareness of things, people, places, and situations that we might otherwise miss, and enrich our lives in the process!
- Life is a lot less complicated when “what you see is what you get!” People with autism tend to be very authentic, loyal, and honest. They interpret things literally, and say what they think. They don’t pretend to be someone they’re not, and they’re prepared to accept the rest of us for who we are. The rest of us complicate life, sometimes needlessly, by speaking metaphorically, putting on social airs, using complicated facial expressions and body language, following intricate unspoken social rules, and expecting everyone else to act just like us!
- Variety really is the spice of life. We typically say that we value diversity, and want everyone to be an individual. But the reality is that our schools, workplaces, playgrounds, and often even our homes are set up to accommodate mostly those who “fit” into a certain mindset and pattern of behavior. Although people with autism are generally singled out by peers, teachers, employers, and even family members as being “different,” often in a negative way, their unique personalities, preferences, and points of view are truly a gift that we can benefit from when we find ways to celebrate, include, and learn from them!
- Sometimes we’re not as smart as we think we are! Unexpected behaviors from people with autism often keep us guessing about their needs, desires, feelings, or intent. But because we make guesses based on our own experiences, needs, or preferences, we often get it wrong! Taking time to get to know the person increases our likelihood of getting it right, increasing success for them and for us!
- “Social” is complicated! A social interaction takes two or more people. Every person on this planet is a unique individual, with changing perspectives, needs, desires, feelings, etc. Every interaction is also unique, which means that we cannot prepare for everything, nor will we always experience success. But a breakdown in communication, “social foible,” or hurt feelings are rarely the fault of only one person. Instead, we all need to keep trying, learning from our mistakes, apologizing readily, and staying positive in order to keep going!
- Autism is just a label. In our society, labels abound…blonde, smart, lazy, rich, young, teacher, doctor, neighbor, funny, disabled, energetic, successful, etc. Labels are used to describe nationality, birth order, profession, intelligence, physical appearance or ability, financial position, level of education, political leanings, age, and more. Yet no one word could ever begin to describe the complexity of a single person. The word “autism” denotes a subset of behaviors and characteristics that is typical of a certain group of people, but it is just that—a word. These people are human beings, each with unique personalities, dreams, hopes, fears, interests, abilities, experiences, and challenges, just like all the rest of us. We limit ourselves and our opportunities if we attempt to reduce any person to a single label.
There is so much to be learned from the boys and girls, men and women, who have been diagnosed with autism or Asperger Syndrome, that this list is simply scratching the surface. In order to learn from each other and to be able to celebrate the unique characteristics which so often enhance our lives in a variety of ways, I’m hoping YOU will share what YOU have learned from people with autism (or what you have learned as a person with autism or Asperger Syndrome). Please email me, and share your stories and insights. I will compile those (either with your name, or anonymously, whichever you prefer), and share them in April when we celebrate Autism Awareness Month.
I hope our collective insights will incite all of us to be quicker to appreciate, encourage, learn from, and enjoy ourselves and the people with whom we live, study, work, and play!