I am Autistic, so is my wife and at least one of my sons. As grandparents, we have two Autistic granddaughters, aged 6 and 8. I am a psychologist, author and poet. We have two cats who are family and give us so much joy. Being Autistic connects me to the world in ways others might miss. Sometimes my sensory system gets overwhelmed and I need to monitor my daily interactions to try to limit this. I love words, music, nature and some people.
I know that each of us is unique and our strengths contribute to our shared interaction. As humans we are part of a team where each needs the other so we can distribute our strengths among us. It’s a bit like united we stand but divided we fall. My strengths lie in the area of experience, wisdom and the ability to use words to explain, frame, train and re-frame information to help explore relationships, understand Autism, build confidence and so on. I believe my positive outlook on life and outgoing, though sensitive, personality is also a strength. Being open to diversity and acceptance of others is a strength, as well as having the courage to face difficulty and admit my fears, shortcomings and challenges. Sometimes it’s in owning the issues we face that are strengths have permission to emerge.
To me Autism means I have a rich ability to focus upon areas that interest me. My passion for writing gives me a medium to connect to others. Autism enables me to notice and ‘pick up on’ appropriate things that matter as well as walk away from those that don’t. I know I miss the colour in some things because I can be very black & white. But, the richness of my world more than compensates for this because it enables me to live with integrity, notice truth and act with courage when I feel very unsure.
I was told as a child I would never amount to much. I was told I couldn’t learn. I was told I was a freak and not ‘normal.’ Today I have a PhD in psychology, have written more than 14 books and several journal articles. I am in a relationship of 34 years with my amazing wife and I am able to love and befriend others as well as enjoy the friendship they offer back.
In general I believe schools, workplaces and the broader community don’t set out to be dismissive and exclusive. But, out of fear and ignorance they are not as inclusive as they need to be. This can change as others get to know and accept us rather than fear our difference.
Each day is a challenge and I have not always succeeded in overcoming the negative and toxic attitudes prevalent throughout society. However, these days I counteract the negative attitudes with lots of ‘self-talk’ where I tell myself to hold my head high and remember I am valued. It’s not that I am valued because I succeed or achieve, I hold value because I exist, because I am. I notice that self affirmation enables me to forgive the ignorance of others and smile. I smile because I know the truth; I am valuable. I smile because each time I encounter stigma, I see it as an opportunity to speak in positive terms for Autistic difference, difference in general and the value of diversity.
I would like to tell my 10-year-old self that tomorrow is another day. The storms will pass and the sun will shine again. You are not alone nor on your own, even when it feels like it. Just because we cannot ‘see’ the sun rise when it’s night time it doesn’t mean it won’t happen. We need to trust that we are OK; you are OK. Feelings come and go like the weather… they are not the best foundation for knowing stuff. I like the words from a song that say: ‘love is not a feeling it’s an act of your will.’ Welcome and love who you are, as a choice, and you will be opening doors to the future you need.
It’s important to talk about Autism in a positive way, not to deny the difficulties, but to open a way forward so those difficulties can become less so. A positive outlook enthuses, creates, restores and breeds hope. Negativity is destructive and only seeks to tear down. It will never build a positive outcome because it’s not in its nature to do so. Exploring strengths and positive platforms in Autism lead into creative solutions and energies that support us on our way.
My wife, family and friends contribute to my personal ‘I CAN’ network. I also have colleagues and other professionals who support the community I thrive within. The I CAN Network itself is important because it legitimizes all that is positive about Autism and Autistic individuals in a world that says ‘I CAN’T’. It refuses to take no for an answer and, as well as telling us ‘WE CAN’ it provides the support needed to enable us so ‘WE CAN and WE DO.’
I’m hoping that individuals reading this story will be encouraged and feel less alone. This helps to build a more inclusive society and open doors to further the inclusive nature of our community. As our community gains in confidence it will reach out to others and the sharing of our lives with them grows a more accepting and inclusive society. It’s a bit like that one pebble thrown into the pond.. it sends out ripples across the water that carry its influence over to other parts of the pond. Inclusion can be infectious it just needs to be spread!
A world that embraces Autism looks like the kind of world I want to be part of. It tastes and smells delicious! It is attractive because it covers ignorance, non-acceptance, discomfort, failure and ugliness with a sauce that takes all the negative ‘I CAN’T’ stuff and turns it into possible. Such a world would unite and share strengths where diversity is the norm and support to achieve, at whatever level, would naturally flow on. I dream of this world and will work to make it a reality.