5 Truly Awesome Things About Autism
by Tera Warner
My mom shares with pride the story of discovering me at less than 5 years old, in the basement at my grandparents’ home, standing at a white board. All my cousins (younger and older than I was at the time) were seated attentively and willingly at my feet while I gave them a little life lecture.
From a very young age, I was willing and able to communicate with ease in front of other people.
- I won almost every public speaking competition I entered in school (without honestly trying very hard).
- I was the lead in the school play.
- Through speaking competitions I was chosen to visit the Nation’s capital as a representative of my region of Canada.
- I was selected to be a Canadian ambassador and exchange student in South Africa during the end of apartheid.
- The Japanese government chose me for an international teaching opportunity at three different schools.
All these things happened because I wasn’t afraid to confidently communicate with others publicly throughout most of my life.
Before you think I’m sharing this to boast, (which ain’t my style) this is really to provide background proof for the fact that when autism stumbled into my life, I lacked neither the willingness nor the ability to communicate. So I was completely caught off guard when nothing I had learned or done in the realm of “public speaking” and social communication was of any use to me at all in handling autism.
“You’re so lucky.”
I mentioned in a recent article that I met Prince Charming in an airplane on a last minute flight to Detroit. What I didn’t mention was that the reason he gave me his number was because when he told me he had a child with autism, I didn’t give him any sympathy. I didn’t apologize on behalf of God and the Universe for his situation. I didn’t give him those droopy, “poor you” eyes.
I looked at him, smiled brightly and said, “You are SO lucky!” That, apparently, is how he decided I was keeper.
Recently I published a newsletter suggesting “If autism hasn’t affected you yet, it will.” Some people were highly offended by this comment, and the article itself. To whomever I may have offended by suggesting autism will affect you if it hasn’t, I should maybe have clarified, that it is my sincere hope it does, and when it does, you will be very “lucky,” too.
5 Truly Awesome Things Autism Can Do For You
#1. Autism can help you not worry about what other people think of you.
In a world like ours the pressure to be likeable, agreeable and socially acceptable is almost suffocating. It’s hard to get over the need to be liked or accepted simply by reading more self-help books.
You can’t exactly manifest melting your wrinkles and grey hair away or think your way “skinny,” “wealthy” or “classy,” and find yourself instantly “acceptable” again.
But you can stop worrying so much what other people think about you.
When you’re with someone who can spontaneous flap arms like a wild bird, or who bursts into loud, incomprehensible song breaking the silence in a public library, you know you’re hanging with a social rebel. When it is done without even the slightest consideration of what anyone thinks about it, you’ve got a rare communication wild card on your hands and things are gonna get interesting!
There’s no way to survive the surprises autism can bring and worry what other people think. When you truly let go of what others think, life tastes sweeter and is a lot more fun. The more you learn to love and accept others as they are, the more you can start loving and accepting yourself. That’s pretty darn AWESOME!
#2. Autism can make you silly and sweaty and WAY less serious.
In order to pierce the “fog” that can keep some people with autism appearing disconnected, you need to be willing to display, engage and maintain MASSIVE amounts of energy and enthusiasm. When trying to establish a connection, we tried using toys, books, plastic people, cars, crayons and coloured paper. We tried fluffy bunnies (the alive kind!!), clown hats, jingle bells, Beatles’s songs, blocks, tents, bowls, banging things and bandanas strapped to our heads.
Nothing we tried had any effect on piercing the autism fog, until when we lost our “serious” and got silly and sweaty and smiley. Raw, unscripted joy completely off leash. Sincerely expressed acceptance and enthusiasm–the most highly valued commodity of the human spirit itself–was what ultimately turned things around.
When a pair of trusting eyes look up at you from the other side of what felt like “impossible to reach” it’s a pretty special moment. Even if it just lasts for a few moments, a glance that really counts, and a connection that means something, is truly AWESOME and it happens best when you let go of all those layers of seriousness and let innocence, vulnerability, silliness and smiles come pouring through!
#3. Autism can make you appreciate little things as if they are REALLY big things.
If you have struggled with something chronically; pain, illness, confusion, upset of some kind, then you know that when the pressure is off, it’s a very relieving feeling. There can be, with autism, some very uncomfortable situations that increase levels of stress, overwhelm and discouragement for people closely involved.
Being willing to do what it takes doesn’t happen without a whole lot of guts and grit. It can be exhausting.
Then at some moment when you expect it least and need it most, a little breakthrough happens.
We have a cute little, laminated “job list” posted on the wall. It has the picture of a big smiling poo, a toilet underneath it, and a BIG arrow pointing down to the toilet from the poo. This little poster is covered in smiley faced glitter stickers of every colour for every time our family celebrated a successful landing in the toilet.
We have experienced THUNDEROUS!!! applause and the wildest cheering sessions ever heard for a poo.
Can you imagine how glorious you would feel the moment you realize the exquisite amount of pleasure, excitement and celebratory bliss you feel coursing through you is because a poo just landed in the toilet?! That’s truly AWESOME!!
4. Autism can help you learn to be quiet, listen and look so you can actually understand what another person is going through.
Where public speaking is about how interesting you can be, autism demands that you get interested in what the person in front of you is experiencing in order to connect with them. Autism doesn’t give a rip about how clever you think you are, your credentials or how well your voice travels across a room.
It does care if you’re sincere in your interest to connect.
It does care if you are able to lovingly accept any given situation for what it is.
When spending time around someone with autism, or anyone who has limited communication abilities, (like very young children), we often speak and treat them as if they cannot understand what we’re saying. At this video around 6:06 the father says something that definitely reinforces the importance of treating every person with dignity whether you think they are “there” and able to understand you or not.
Regardless of what’s happening on the “outside” communicating with dignity to all people honours the human spirit that is alive and well in us all. The more you honour people and treat them with dignity, no matter what appears to be happening on the outside, the better chance they have to let the best parts of them come through, and because they feel safe and will come out and allow themselves to be seen.
We withdraw and disconnect from what we don’t fully understand, but doing so has consequences.
Autism, for me, is just one kind of interpersonal barrier to communication. It can be a very big one, but the tools for learning how to communicate with someone who has autism are just as valuable when communicating with anyone who:
- is under significant stress
- is feeling overwhelmed, heavily distracted or disoriented
- has opinions significantly different than your own
- feels disconnected and withdrawn from life for reasons that may be chemical, emotional or physical.
The most valuable thing I learned was how to truly LOOK and observe what was happening in front of me. When that happened I could slow down, simplify my communication and make myself much easier to understand for someone who was already overloaded with sensation.
HINT: This tool is the tool every wife, husband, sister, brother, cousin, employer and employee needs to resolve the bulk of their communication mishaps and frustrations.
#5. Autism can make you really good at smiling. 🙂
From inside our own heads, we rarely see how our facial expressions are strained, stressed and serious. Take a walk through your local shopping mall, look around any waiting room, or along a busy street, and you will see a whole lot of creased brows and worried expressions.
Sometimes it’s because people are trying really hard to communicate with someone who has autism, that their expressions can appear especially serious and strained. Try to see the world from the perspective of the person looking at you sometime. 😉 You might be surprised how grumpy and serious you actually look – even
While working with a child with autism, it became SO clear to me that progress happened much faster and communication became much easier the more I smiled.
If someone feels the world is threatening, or confusing, or unpredictable in some way, they are more likely to withdraw into themselves and not communicate. This is true for depression, anxiety, and even short term fear in certain situations. If “inside” feels safer than “outside,” why would anyone bother reaching out and communicating?
If speaking with others, expressing our thoughts, fears, feelings, feels like risky business, we are more likely to shut down, tighten up and keep it to ourselves.
But no one feels good holding themselves back, and no one sleeps soundly with a heavy heart.
It’s one of your duties as a living, breathing game player on planet Earth to do what you can to help others and make communication more possible.
One of the secrets to doing so is using more admiration (respect and warm approval) when you connect and fostering the ability to act as a loving “landing pad” where others can feel safe communicating, and can BE safe communicating.
When you can make “outside” feel safer and more inviting than the “inside” people are struggling with, they find the courage to communicate more easily.
That means that with your absolute attention and presence, some patience and a sincere and warm, smile, you can really help people.
“A warm smile is the universal language of kindness.”
-William Arthur Ward“A gentle word, a kind look, a good-natured smile can work wonders and accomplish miracles.”
-William Hazlitt“We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.”
– Mother Teresa“A smile is the light in your window that tells others that there is a caring, sharing person inside.”
– Denis Waitley
“Smile, for everyone lacks self-confidence and more than any other one thing a smile reassures them.”
– Andre Maurois
“Because of your smile, you make life more beautiful.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh
Can You Let Me Know What You Think, Please?
p.s. Coming up on May 3rd is the launch of my new podcast: WISH Radio! Can’t wait to share this and so many more great things coming with you soon!
p.p.s. If you made it this far, you ROCK and I’m super grateful to you for being here!