I sit at a table, working playing a game with students. Next to me a conversation goes on, which I desperately want to join into, and can’t, because I’m working with their classmates. Instead, I busy myself listening, enjoying what I hear. Twelve and thirteen year olds discussing neurodiversity and what it means to be autistic. Preteens and teens discussing their own way of being – my way of being – and the idea of acceptance.
Another time, I sit at the same table, and a student fights within himself – overwhelmed by the noises of the classroom, but afraid of acknowledging his impairments. I’m there with him, sharing his disorder, but already accepting my own, and someone who he views as someone worth looking up to. I am open about my ear muffs in my backpack, and about how much more noise it would take for me to go through the effort of pulling them out even buried so deep. That day self-care and self-acceptance wins, because of acceptance of me, and he gets his own ear muffs to protect himself from the sensory onslaught he was feeling.
Teachers requesting where I got my neurodiversity t-shirt, aides asking about the problems of stim suppression, people turning to me as someone knowledgeable about autism and asking me questions. Most importantly, students treating me as a mentor rather than any other sort of adult.
Success – that is what I get. I make a difference in people’s lives, because of my autism, and because I know who I am. I am not afraid, I know I’m impaired, I accept the word “disability”, and what I get for it, is my success.
Everyone’s success is their own. No two people do the same thing, no two people share the same traits, disabled or not, autistic or not. No two people share the exact same goals. What I manage though, is managing to show people that they are worthy, by showing them myself. I manage to show them how to accept themselves, by showing them that it isn’t a scary place of lesser being and inability, it is a place of acknowledgement of impairments, and a place of finding themselves and their own goals. I manage to show them the worth of everyone, slowly, by showing them that impairments don’t define the worth of a person, even when they begin afraid of impairments doing so.
My success is helping people through that process, speeding it up, making it not one to be afraid of. My success is making other adults start to see bits and pieces, and what that might mean in education. My success is taking being myself and spreading the idea that you shouldn’t be afraid of someone like me, and it working. My success is seeing steps, someone asking me for help for more ways to take care of themselves, someone talking more openly about who they are, someone turning and talking to others about how autism isn’t a bad thing.
These aren’t things I could do without being autistic. I use my autism productively, because it is who I am. I need to help and share. I need to make people see the beauty of math, see that I’m not a horrible person because I am autistic, need to make people see how much they are, no matter their impairments. I need to take my self-acceptance and project it onto others, until they accept me too, until they accept themselves too, until things become better.
Because in too many cases the children are sitting their not understanding who they are, because nobody tells them. The parents fear because nobody tells them. The people around haven’t heard any words about autism besides “autism speaks”. There isn’t any ideas of what or who we are, except the idea of fear. I am not afraid of who I am, I see no reason to fear me, even if sometimes I need a little help.
So, I want to take this, and tell people. Take this and go to the children, and instead of the therapy, just play games working on math skills and while doing that talk to them as a peer and mentor. Letting them know who I am, being open about my diagnosis, being open about my impairments and about what I do because of them. Answering questions about how I cope, and about what my quirks are. Tricking them into learning skills that I think are necessary to learn, and I think will help them, focusing on problem solving skills, and critical thinking skills, and various types of reasoning.
And that’s what I do, I share, I teach, I show people and they get to know too. They get to see too the beauty, they get to see too, who they really are – someone who isn’t to be feared.