Lessons Autistic Kids Can Teach Us
An Inherent Lack of Prejudice
When my son was first diagnosed with autism, the school social worker began including him in small group sessions for kids who needed to build their social skills. I asked him who was in the group. He couldn’t remember their names of if they were in his class or not. I asked him to describe the kids. They were all boys. They were all the same age. They all had brown hair.
I attended a session a few weeks later. There were two blonde haired boys and one African-American boy. This made me curious. Did he not see their physical differences? Our neighborhood had children of every color. I named all of the kids on the block and asked him what color skin each of them had.
He had absolutely no idea.
For Show and Tell that month, he read a children’s book called All Cats Have Autism to the class. He did not see his differences as anything to be ashamed or proud of. He explained, very matter-of-fact, that like the cats he also had autism. It made him different in some ways but he was the same in others.
Where does being unobservant end and not allowing physical differences to separate people begin? Like other social constructs, judging people by the color of their skin has to be taught.
Autistic kids need to have behaviors and responses deliberately demonstrated that most kids learn intuitively. It’s not a one way street though; we can learn just as much from them.
Honesty is the Best (Autism) Policy
Parents of non-autistic kids deal with a common ‘lying’ phase at around 8 years of age. Parents of autistic kids deal with a ‘truth’ phrase their entire lives. Where and when it is appropriate to use white lies and omissions of fact takes autistic kids a long time to learn. The very important lesson – that sometimes we need to keep our observations to ourselves – regardless of how interesting we find them – causes some difficult moral dilemmas.
I am a different person than I was before I had my son, and not just because becoming a parent changed me. It is because my sense of truth has been purified by fire. I have been embarrassed, been the recipient of fierce glares, and laughed out loud at my son’s wonderful and horrifying honesty. He is the same in public as in private.
Instead of teaching autistic kids how to tactfully dance around the truth, sometimes we should let them teach us how to tell it. Directly, non-confrontationally, and unapologetically.
Forgiveness, According to Scientific Observation
My son’s ability to forgive is beyond his years. I believe on some level, it is beyond human. As a 12 year old going through a move to a new town, the death of a grandparent, and his parents’ divorce; he told me,
“Don’t look at what people do when they hurt you. Everyone hurts everyone. That’s not what is important. What is important is what they do when you tell them they hurt you. That is what you need to know”.
He applied scientific observation methods applied to human behavior. The reaction is what is important. Ignore the catalyst; that’s the least important part. What do people do at the point of awareness that they have caused you pain? This is where the light of their true character shines through.
Truth, justice, and not being prejudiced are values we all purport. Autistic kids unintentionally but willingly hold us accountable to walk the walk. We are wise to teach them how to function in society; but that wisdom extends back to us as we learn from them how to uphold our values with honesty and integrity.