I read this book. called Ethan’s Story: My Life With Autism. Ethan wrote it. He was an eight year old with autism when he wrote it (he might be nine or ten now.) He says things directly, and he implies good things. (He uses person-first language, so when talking about him or quoting him, I will too. I still use “autistic” in general, and I am still an Autistic person. Respecting the way people want to be referred to is important.)
He says all kids are different. He says he has autism. He doesn’t say it like it’s bad because it’s not. His brain works differently, and that’s just how it is. This illluminates important things beyond the words he says. When he says it, just like any other difference, rather than asking people to look past or ignore his autism, he is saying that yes, we can talk about this.
When we try to hide the ways we are different, we start thinking of them as shameful. When we tell people to look past the ways we are different, we think of them as things that we should ignore, things we should pretend aren’t there. That goes quickly into hiding, and hiding who we are doesn’t work well for any kinds of differences.
When we talk about our differences as just being the way we are, we can be accepted, just the way we are.
He talks about good things and about things that are hard. That’s important. If we only talk about the good things about being autistic, we don’t get help for the things that are hard. It’s another way of hiding: we don’t get to be real people with things we are good at and things we need help with. If we only talk about the things that are hard, we might start thinking of ourselves as tragedies or burdens. That doesn’t help anyone.
We won’t all have the same things we’re good at and the same things we have trouble with that Ethan does – why would we? We aren’t Ethan! But we will all have things we’re better at and things we’re worse at, and we need to feel OK talking about both kinds. We even need to be able to talk about the things that are partially hard and that we have to do differently, but that we do well if given the chance to do in our own ways.
All those things are part of who we are, and like Ethan’s Story suggests, if we’re open about who we are and why we are the way we are, we can find friends who accept us as we are. Just like Ethan, we can have autism (or be Autistic!) and have friends and be happy.
Alyssa Z recently finished her third year of college as a mathematics, engineering, and Chinese triple major and her tenth year of studying Chinese. She does research at her university in nanotechnology, which is among her Autistic obsessions. (Other Autistic obsessions are math and autism itself.) Between writing about her Autistic life at Yes, That Too, trying to get Because PATTERNS! off the ground, juggling three majors, assisting classes for The Art of Problem Solving, singing baritone for the student-run a capella group, and trying to make it to fencing and ultimate frisbee, she is often busier than she knows what to do with.