Thursday, April 02, 2009
Autism Awareness Meets Quilly's Three Word Challenge
It's Thursday, which means that it's the arrival of Quilly's dreaded Three Word Challenge. She gives us three obscure, look-em-up-in-the-dictionary words and asks us to use them. Agh. Today's words (and their meanings) were:
propinquity - Kinship or nearness
susurrus - whispering sound
nescience - ignorance
Unfortunately, it is usually only when we are brought into propinquity with a child or children with autism that interest and concern begin to whisper in our ears, to be a susurrus, awakening our consciousness and breaking through our nescience, our ignorance and lack of concern. Today is Autism Awareness Day. Two of my favorite bloggers who put a human and tender face - who put heart and tender honesty - onto this subject are Linda at These Are the Days and Michelle at Full Souls Ahead. I hope you'll take the time to visit them and learn a bit about what it's like to have a child or children with autism and what it's like to BE a child with autism. Or an adult....
Michelle today wrote about a woman she knew in nursing school who was "different" and how she wished she had known then what she knows now. (She's much more eloquent. Please read her own words). It made me think about people who have passed through my own life. When I lived and worked out in the world I was always a magnet for odd people. They seemed to find me and glue themselves to me, probably because I was kind. I would listen and talk. I would make an effort to include them. Truth be known, though, much to my shame I wasn't always very sincere. I often resented it. In those days nobody knew what autism was. I didn't, anyway. Maybe some of these people were autistic. Probably they were. In retrospect, instead of resenting them, I should have been impressed that they were out in the world working and functioning. There was a woman at my church who nobody could stand. I was pretty much the only person who talked to her and she hung around me a lot. She was brilliant but she had trouble communicating. I used to try and help her find better ways to talk to people. Thinking back, I suspect she was autistic. Should I have had to know that to feel more compassionate about her? I've always thought that when we reject people because they seem different, we re-enforce their differentness. It has always bothered me but I won't claim that I'm above it. Part of me resented this woman's intrusion into my life. My own insecurities screamed to attention when all the odd people in the world glued themselves to me. Would people think I was one of them? (Was I? Was that why they liked me so much?)
In Arizona, I met my friend Sue and her son Nicholas. Nicholas has Asperger's Syndrome. He was 7 when I moved out there. Sweet and smart and articulate. And ever so slightly odd. The kind of differentness that makes the rest of us when we are at our worst move aside. There isn't necessarily any kind of cruel shunning (though there well may be that as well), but there is still an instinct in all of us to move away. Because we don't know any better. Because we are afraid as children and as adults of being judged. Nicholas is probably 12 or 13 now. I haven't been in touch with his mother as much as I used to be. I know they decided to start home schooling him as he moved into puberty because they thought the social problems at school might be too devastating for him. Nicholas has a wonderful imagination and a big heart and a sweet sense of humor. People who don't get to know him don't know what they are missing.
I don't know what my point is. I wish we lived in a world where we were able to be kinder to one another. Whether the differentness is autism or obesity or blindness or some other disability, I wish we were actively taught to reach past or initial impusle at rejection. We are too often ruled by the susurrus - the whispering voices of wanting to fit in, of not wanting to be bothered, of not wanting to be different by association.
I hope that somehow Autism Awareness will not just knock down walls but will also build bridges, not just teach us what autism is and how autistic children (and adults) are different, but also - maybe more importantly - teach us how those who live with autism are the same and how we can reach across what seems like a chasm but is often only a crack in the sidewalk.
I hope the day will come when people like my friend Nicholas and countless others will be less isolated by their condition because the rest of us will know that they are not so different after all.