There is a saying often uttered in the autism community, “If you meet one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Autism is not a definitional box filled with discrete behavioral, neurological, or physical descriptors – it is a spectrum filled with ranges of color and shading, nuances upon nuances, and palettes that often have yet to be recognized and appreciated by the trained eye. Autism is a way of being that continues to defy the clear cut diagnostic confines that medicine is so comfortable working in. It is the big, erratic coloring outside the lines that makes perfect sense in the eyes of God, but that forces the neurotypicals of the universe to re-examine why the lines were so important in the first place.
I think that folks who have not experienced autism firsthand cannot fully appreciate the beauty in human beings that autism liberates. I am of the mind that autism is not an ailment, but is instead a way of being. I believe that all humans are somewhere on the autism spectrum.
Recently, the American Psychiatric Association announced that it was dropping Asperger’s disorder from its new diagnostic manual. Asperger’s is a label used for kids who are considered to be high-functioning autistics. I am not personally torn up about the loss as I don’t put much in labels from the American Psychiatric Association and I have never been happy about Asperger’s being termed as a mental disorder; unfortunately, in some instances the label matters. The label matters with the insurance industry – it could be the difference in coverage for services (or not). It also matters to school districts who have to make decisions about special education services. Many of the parents of kids on the spectrum have had to fight tooth and nail to get their kids the services they need, and as such are grateful for whatever support they can get even if a label from the American Psychiatric Association is attached.
But forget about the Asperger’s disorder label into the future as it is no longer a recognized mental disorder. The Aspies can still proudly embrace the category, but they don’t need to own what I believe is the incorrect stigma that goes with the label…autism in any presentation is not a mental disorder.
My friend Mary, the mom of two Aspies, sent me a great video link which features Ron Fournier’s discussion about his son Tyler who is an Aspie. I encourage you to watch this video. Ron speaks to what a gift his son Tyler is and talks about Tyler’s interactions with two former presidents (and Tyler’s very Aspie observations of them). The story Ron tells of his acceptance and appreciation of who Tyler is should remind us all that above all else, there is love.
As I said at the outset, “If you meet one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Take the time to meet folks on the spectrum and you will learn what those who love folks on the spectrum know - different is just different and it is okay, indeed it is extraordinary. And as I said earlier, I believe that everyone is somewhere on the spectrum, so look in the mirror and in the same way that you value and appreciate the being God made you to be (and the place where you landed on the spectrum), appreciate others and where they are on the spectrum. The world is changing and the spectrum is here to stay. Learn how to appreciate the big, erratic coloring outside the lines…let go of your typical expectations…embrace the extraordinary.
Day one thousand two hundred and forty-six of the new forty – obla di obla da