I would like to give public appreciation to the people with autism who have taught me some of the most useful lessons of my life. Here’s what I’ve learned (so far) from the people I know on the autism spectrum:
1. Clear communication
Many people with autism receive language quite literally. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve unthinkingly said something like, “this is driving me up the wall”, and been met with a blank stare on the face of someone with autism. However, this section is about more than just clarifying idioms. I’ve learned to give explicit directions, and to anticipate when someone might not know my expectations. I can also (sometimes) remember to preemptively explain a few possible outcomes of important situations, before they become confusing. Do I stop using these tools when I speak with neurotypical people? Well, sometimes. But then I find myself tangled up in miscommunication again, and vow to get back on the expectation-setting wagon.
2. People will accept your quirks and faults, if you own them
I have been impressed with how many people and communities have accepted people with autism into them, quirks and all. My theory is that it’s easier for us to accept someone who accepts themselves, quirks and all, than it is to accept someone who pretends that they have no quirkiness. For myself, I try to keep this in mind, and not feel insecure about my own occasional quirk.
3. Saying what you really mean is truly powerful
When people (with and without autism) speak the truth in a room, most people retreat into that slightly-awkward/slightly-awed silence, and think, “wow, you just said what everyone else was thinking”. This is a powerful silence, where people are facing the truth. I love it when this happens, and have been inspired by it. Although sometimes it makes me uncomfortable to just come out and say what I think, I have found it to be a truly important practice. I mean, here I am with all the comforts and privileges of a neuro-typical, first-world, stable-family upbringing and I’m wasting my time in meetings talking circles around something a little touchy? The world needs us folks who aren’t worried about food and shelter to be more courageous than that, so that we can finish our conversations and make some real action happen.
So, thank you to all those folks who have contributed to my development. I hope I can be useful to you too.