What does self-acceptance really mean? Do you really need to like yourself? I have thought about these particular questions more than I would like to recently. I have two teenage and one tween-age daughter. Junior high and high school can be particularly brutal and cruel especially when you are a teenage girl. Even though I graduated from high school in 1991, things haven’t changed for the better.
Not only do our youth have to face mean girls, cliques, and awkward growth spurts, there is the huge world of social media. Social media is everywhere! When I was a teen we gossiped and passed notes that stayed within our school boundaries. Now, meanness is just a click away.
Just take a momentary glance at any social media site, and you will feel ten times worse than you did before. It’s true, times have changed. You can feel fat, ugly, depressed, unwanted, and awkward in just one little click of the mouse. As a mom of three daughters, this world of negativity is especially challenging.
My oldest daughter, an eighth grader, feels pressured daily to fit in. Most girls her age want to fit in, to be the “it” girl. There is one difference between my daughter and most eighth grade girls, my daughter is autistic. Sure every teen girl is struggling with identity and independence; we all struggle with self-acceptance. Autism adds an extra layer to the complexity of self-approval.
Those of us with Asperger’s syndrome know we are different. We are always aware that we have to navigate in a foreign land. It seems no one speaks, thinks, or acts the in the same manner. I first realized this in junior high school. Everyone around me seemed to know how to act. It was as if everyone got the script for some big blockbuster movie except me. That is when I first started struggling with accepting myself. I longed to be like my “typical” peers, never really knowing quite how to act. I never really fit in with any specific peer or social group. I guess you could say I was a geek or nerd, but I still didn’t feel a part of the group. I remember looking in the mirror in my teens, and asking myself, “Who are you?” and “Where do you belong?”
I sympathize greatly with my oldest daughter. Being on the autism spectrum and being a teenager are beyond challenging. Not only is there the adjustment to puberty and the teen years, but then on top of everything there is autism. Autism can be a friend and a foe. It is a friend because it makes us unique, it offers fresh perspectives. It is a foe because it can isolate a person socially. Social isolation can lead to self-doubt.
Questions like “Why can’t you just be normal?” seem to come from everyone. This is why it is so important for autistic children, especially teens, to have a solid support system at home. Teens and adults on the spectrum are glaringly aware that we are different. We think different, act different, socialize different. By having a strong support system in place we can feel accepted and loved just the way we are. It is so important for someone with autism to have a safe space to be themselves.
Accepting oneself is a lifelong process, autistic or not. The key is to learn to be comfortable with who you are. Learn to be okay with your flaws and challenges. I often remind my teen daughter that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Focus on the positive, not the negative. Helping others and volunteering also helps us see outside our own lives. It can help boost self-esteem, foster compassion and focus attention on something positive.
As an autistic parent, I try to embrace my flaws and show my daughters that life has its ups and downs. Be happy with you! Remember, you are unique, there is only one you!