What I Learned Growing Up With Autism
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Politics and Activism

What I Learned Growing Up With Autism

Coping with- and understanding- what makes us human.

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What I Learned Growing Up With Autism
NPR

Growing up is hard, especially when you have autism. Autism Spectrum Disorder (or ASD for short) is an often misrepresented affliction, viewed in with polarizing attitudes by anyone who hasn’t experienced what the disorder is like. On top of the mental restraints which come with the disorder, this can often lead children and adults alike to a sense of isolation which transcends simply being ‘different’. At times, even a day with autism can seem like Hell, and looking back, it can seem only a miracle that anyone manages to pull through the experience at all.

Living with autism, however, like any other experience, has its lessons. The years spent coping and learning to adjust with the disorder can be a hurdle, but ultimately leads to a better understanding of the self, as well as of other people. When one looks back on the supposed miracle of growing up, the surprise at survival comes with the recognition of what it means to be human, an experience which seems all the more poignant to those who feel cut from a different cloth than the bulk of humanity.

1.) Nothing in life will ever be easy

People who have grown up with ASD never need to be told that life will be hard for them. Life is hard for anyone, neurologically divergent or otherwise, and for those who are neurodivergent, this becomes readily apparent. In my own case, ASD held me back in a number of ways which ranged from frustrating to terrifying; while it made reading and writing exceedingly difficult in my first decade of life, it also meant I had a hard time taking in sensory information, often inducing vertigo and fear whenever I so much as stepped outside. Coupled together, this meant that the majority of the time I spent in grade school was isolated from my peers, undergoing physical therapy in order to help adapt and overcome the issues that blocked me from progressing at the rate of my peers.For many people with ASD, circumstances like this are all too common. Everything that should be normal takes an extra step for us to accomplish, and only with weeks upon months of training do we find we can catch up with others.

Growing up in a life that required me to take extra time out of each day to understand things as well as my peers, was agonizing, but it also taught me the importance of resilience and fortitude. I pushed myself beyond what was expected of a person like me, going so far as to stand beside screeching train cars to accustom myself to the disorientation and terror it brought, and writing things as simple as my name over and over until my hands, sore and calloused, could finally grip a pencil correctly. Years of work that hard allowed me to not only reach my peers, but to exceed them; by the time I finished middle school I was winning awards for my excellence in the field of English studies, something the people who trained me never would have expected when I started off in their care.

2.) People rarely see outside their own experience

The world we live in has hardly changed from the one our ancient ancestors grew up and settled in. Our society is built around tribal-esque affiliations, and oftentimes one’s loyalty to a specific demographic can overshadow the importance of looking beyond a single perspective and outlook. For this reason, anything that’s different from what one considers the norm is scorned and reviled, and in the case of mental illness and disorder, criticism gets the easiest pass.

Autism, in particular, is thrown around as a catch-all term for inadequacy, a label, and phrase used without much thought as to the depth and complexity of the disorder, as well as of human intelligence. The crude use of the word “autistic” reflects the simplistic and negative view people hold for those with autism, and through my own eyes, it was always painful and deprecating to see the barriers put up between me and those who thought I simply wasn’t skilled enough to handle tasks like other children my age.

My reaction to the poor expectations I received also taught me that I wasn’t free of my own biases. While it would have helped immensely if those who had mocked or pitied me had only seen beyond their own viewpoints, I was also ensnared by the inability to conceive of how others felt. Consumed by resentment for those who I didn’t see as falling on the spectrum, it was all too easy to develop a martyr complex that isolated me further from the world I was trying to fit in. My hurt and my fear folded in on themselves, and I learned to see everyone who wasn’t like me in a negative aspect, condemning them as ignorant or outright vile people for not seeing things my way.

It was only through the love and patience of those few people who did see beyond their own worlds that I learned how to forgive and let go, and how to recognize my own suffering in others. As said before, all lives experience hardship, and nothing is easy for anyone who undertakes the process of making a life for themselves. Suffering, I learned later in life, is something that binds everyone together, regardless of demographic and circumstance, and to understand the sorrow and pain others feel is often the first step to defeating isolation and truly learning to love others for who they are.

3.) Even with hard work, there will be things you can’t change

It's often among the more understanding that autism isn’t something which should be looked on poorly; it’s only an aspect of human diversity, and just like race and sex, it should neither be derided or lauded as by humanity. Perhaps I stand in a special minority, then, when I say that autism is something I’d gladly be rid, and would pay any price to remedy. The hardship and the isolation brought by it are something I feel anyone could do without, and I’ve admittedly always envied to some extent those who can live without this aspect of who I am.

But to wish autism away is no more realistic than to pray that life’s struggle be taken entirely. ASD is a cross I bear, and one which I’ve had to learn that I’ll always carry. Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned so far in life is that this applies to many things; no matter what we do, there are some things which simply can and cannot be controlled. As much as we might work hard to improve and idealize our own lives, to cut and trim the paths of our experiences until they fit the exact frame we desire, there will always be underlying, unseemly details that will mar the fringes of our respective lifespans.

It’s only through accepting these flaws and hardships, I’ve learned, that peace can ever be achieved. I’ve come to accept my autism as an intrinsic part of who I am, a part which is vital to making me the human being I’ve grown into, and have learned that to fight against it, rather than simply working with it, causes more pain than it alleviates. For all people, this holds true, in every facet of life which upsets us yet never goes away. As human beings, as adults, we need to learn that not all demons can be defeated. Rather, We need to learn how to sit with them, to stare them in the face, and perhaps learn even how to love them for what they are, forgetting those self-built constructions that distinguish them from those romanticized portions of ourselves. It’s only when we’re able to smile at those flaws, then, that we’re truly able to forget they’re even there.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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