Often, nearly always, in fact, when I mention autism, people do that head cocked to the side, “aahhh, shame” sad-face thing. The media has been helpful. People now know a little bit about autism. But the media likes a bit of a car crash and tends to put a totally negative spin on ASD. True: autism can be a bitch - there are a lot of bad bits BUT there's also a truck-load of really great bits and these hardly ever get mentioned. It isn't a death-sentence for a family. It doesn't mean that life will be filled with doom and gloom forever and ever. Yes - it's a massive challenge for any family getting to grips with the new diagnosis and the implications for the future. BUT the dust has well and truly settled for us now and there's a lot of super cool stuff about autism which I wouldn't change for the world.
Here are my top ten reasons (and there are plenty more than just these) why having autism in the family is a VERY good thing:
1) My boys have taught me to look beyond the surface of things. To look at life from a different perspective. To see (and feel and smell and touch and lick) the wood from the trees. We took J to the London Aquarium and he lay down beside every tank and looked at the ripples on the surface from underneath – so beautiful and so easily missed when you’re looking at what you’re “supposed” to be looking at. Bus handle colours, lamp post numbers, road sign fonts, tiny errors in books etc etc etc. Rich beautiful details.
2) They have taught me that the social conventions that J can find so confusing and difficult, often just don’t matter. Life goes on without following the crowd. Without adhering to these, you can make yourself appear odd to Joe Public. But what is more important – worrying about what strangers/acquaintances think or nurturing and enjoying your family?
3) Sense of humour – seriously, autism buffs this right up! Not always conventional or PC, but life is properly funny round here a lot of the time! There are some days where a GSOH is vital…this “mountain”, for example, carefully sculpted from J's mattress (the third this year).
4) My kids have taught me that you sometimes have to give people a little more time to get into their groove. Sometimes you need to look deeper than your initial gut feeling about a person. People who are initially “spiky” and hard to get to know are often the ones that are really worth getting to know.
5) They've taught me to poo poo the “shoulds” and “musts” in life, i.e. “all children should go to after school clubs” or “all children must love parties”. Our kids have always kicked against both of the above examples – I had to stop and really ask myself why I was flogging this or that particular dead horse.... Can they live without learning to play tennis?: yes. Why do I want them to play tennis?: so that I look like a “good” parent... oh! Ditto the party-attending. If you actually stop and ask why you're doing the things that make you really stressed, there are often some interesting answers.
6) Happiness. I can honestly say that I am a very happy person these days. Autism is painful and unfair and shitty sometimes and that means that we have to look harder for those golden nuggets of joy before the shutters come down again. But it's always worth the wait and is all the more special for not taking it for granted.
7) They’ve taught me that there’s always interesting new stuff to learn like the effect of stomach acid on a wedding ring that has been swallowed or that Sonic The Hedgehog is also the name of a gene on chromosome 7 of the human genome or some other video-gaming fascinating fact (thanks G!)
8) They’ve taught me not to always focus on the negatives in life – the Super Nanny model of parenting and most Autism “programmes” are about “fixing” your kids and “teaching” them stuff. Seriously? kids are kids – they want to have fun sometimes.
9) We will never EVER get lost on the roads of the UK. J has an encyclopedic knowledge of the road systems, rail systems and tube maps. #useful
10) Finally, they’ve taught me to savour life. To properly breathe in and cement those moments into my soul. Kids really really do grow up so fast. In the early years when autism felt like an inescapable quagmire of doom, I never thought I’d get to this point. But even then there were good moments – I just found it harder to see them. They were certainly there though. See? (this video was made about 6 years ago):