Acceptance, belonging, acknowledgement, these are all words every human being wants to hear in her lifetime. To be a part of something. To belong to a group. To have an identity that others understand. To be embraced. Let’s face it, we all need to know that people−our friends, families, coworkers−accept us.
No one wants to be an outcast.
No one wants to volunteer to sit on the sidelines of life.
Unfortunately, for many people, that is exactly the way things happen. Prince Charming doesn’t save the day, lost pets aren’t always found, and people with differences aren’t always accepted.
In the world today, it seems everyone is different. People are different races, religions, ethnicities, genders, and colors. There are people with disabilities. There are physical disabilities, neurological disabilities, mental and emotional disabilities. Some disabilities are obvious and some not so much.
Autism spectrum disorders often fall into the invisible disabilities category. You can’t see autism.
Sure we (autistics) do have some distinct characteristics, but even those are not always apparent to outsiders. I, myself can seamlessly blend into society. I don’t stand out in a crowd.
But what happens when people know that you are on the spectrum and they refuse to accept and acknowledge your challenges? It seems as if I’ve always known that I was different. I never seemed to quite fit into the social mold that society presented. As early as first grade, I can remember not understanding group games and playground nonsense.
As I grew older, social interactions became increasingly frustrating. By late junior high school, I was thoroughly confused. Why were people using slang words that made no sense? How were the girls in my class getting dates. What was flirting? Why do my peers move in and out of social situations so easily? Why didn’t I get the memo? Was there a class I forgot to take? High school and college became my worst social nightmares. I never felt sorry for myself, but I was perpetually frustrated. I was awkward!
In my case, I was not diagnosed with autism until my mid-thirties. Since I had no idea why social situations were so demanding, I resigned myself to swim with rest of the fish as best as I could. The problem was I was a guppy in a shark tank. Things might have been somewhat easier for me if I had had a supportive network of friends or family members. Unfortunately, my parents moved twice during my school career. As a result I went to two different junior high schools and two different high schools. In my opinion, if it can at all be avoided, never move a child on the spectrum during her formative junior high or high school years. As a result, I never really felt accepted by any specific friend group because I never stayed in one place long enough.
High school was incredibly socially challenging because my parents moved my sophomore year of high school to a small farming community. Needless to say I was an outsider. Most of the students in my class had been together since kindergarten. My parents were less than supportive in my pursuit to fit in at school. I grew up in a verbally and emotionally abusive home. Being different not only isolated me from my peers, it isolated me from my family. So here’s my earth shattering reveal, my family (specifically my parents) never accepted the person I truly know to be me.
Growing up in a house with parents that constantly frowned upon my “weird” behavior was, in a nutshell, miserable at best. My mother especially disliked my personality. My personality turns out to be autistic. Of course back in the dark ages, no one knew what Aspergers looked like. People like me (I know there were others.) were considered to be oddballs, geeks, nerds, rigid…the list goes on. My mother desperately wanted me to fit in and be normal.
At one point she did take me to a therapist. Unfortunately, after consulting with my parents, everyone was convinced I had OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). The thing is, I didn’t have OCD, one cannot medicate or wish away autism spectrum disorder. Much to my parents’ dismay, my “weirdness” wouldn’t/couldn’t be changed, fixed, or deleted. I endured countless hours of criticism and ridicule. My parents constantly mocked my behavior, made jokes about me, and we’re just plain mean. I guess they thought if they shamed and embarrassed me enough, I would be like all the other kids. I would stop “acting” so inappropriately (according to my parents’ social views).
I am not telling this highly personal account of my life so that people will feel sorry for me. I am telling this story so that other parents can learn from my story. The most important thing you can do as a mom or dad is accept your children the way they are. I have lived a life knowing that I was not accepted by the people who were supposed to love me unconditionally.
I will shout from the rooftops until the day I die, ‘Love your children for who they are, not what you wish they were!’
You cannot fix or wish away what you perceive to be wrong with your child. Accept them wherever they are, whoever they are. Acceptance is possibly the greatest gift you can give your child. Children grow into adults. Adults choose their own paths. Give them wings so they’ll fly back to you one day.
I will tell you that my parents, sadly, never did choose to accept me. I am a 42 year old orphan (with living parents). They refused to accept my differences, my wonderfully quirky personality. I am not bitter, I have three beautiful daughters (two of whom are just like their momma). I have a wonderful husband. I am happy being me. I live with being able to freely live life with autism. Autism is a bumpy ride, but aren’t thrill rides the most exhilarating and exciting?