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Dear parents, teachers, & employers of autistics. Today, I'm celebrating that my child ate half a yogurt and 3/4 of a PB&J for breakfast. She used a spoon for the yogurt and made it half way through before getting a bit upset because she spilled a lot & was getting overwhelmed.
Before, a PB and J would've been a no-go. She wouldn't eat anything with more than one visible ingredient. She will eat cheese (alone), or bread (alone), but never both at the same time. She's sometimes eat peanut butter on a spoon because it doesn't spill off.
This didn't just happen. This was the result of three years of trying different things, of eating tons of pureed food in pouches, and of grand efforts that were futile in execution. But not once was there force, punishment, or shaming. Just low-demand encouragement.
I have worried (A LOT) that she didn’t didn’t get a balanced diet, but we got a good gummy multivitamin. Her motor coordination is behind kids her age, but that’s okay. Mine is, too. I still can’t drink without a straw. I still spill things.
I still have a hard time tying my shoes or reading a clock. I still can’t cut my own food because I’m terrified of the sound of when a knife hits a plate. I still write “b” and “d” (and often other letters) backwards all the time.
Like her mother, there are a ton of things my child can do that most kids can't do. She's not a late bloomer. She's developing differently because her brain is structured differently. Tasks in every environment are not designed for us. They're normed for most people.
So jobs and classrooms are largely measured and structured around how well we can be mediocre at doing a multitude of tasks. Autistic people aren't wired for that. We are wired to follow a path to its end and then trailblaze it some more.
So if you need us to be the best at something, you have to be okay that we're going to be terrible at a lot of things. We can't code your new app AND be our own secretary, and dear lord do not put us in charge of the hospitality committee! (That happened to me once!)
Accommodations means not to structure tasks for us that are far below our abilities or never even engage them because you don't know what we can do. We probably all feel our talents are vastly under-utilized.
Your brains are kind of balanced in how they use resources. So logically, you might assume that if a person has trouble with spelling and buttoning a shirt, they will also have trouble with physics and quantum mechanics. You can't apply that metric to autistics.
When you first saw Kodi Lee @Kodileerocks on America's Got Talent, you might have made the mistake that his spoken language was an indicator of what he can do or of his ability to understand language. You quickly were surprised.
You got to see a more extreme demonstration of an autistic person's strengths and weaknesses in one view. Most of our talents aren't so obvious and neatly demonstrated as singing and playing a piano. Some might take an hour to even explain. Most aren’t for entertaining.
But just like Kodi, we need room to find ourselves & explore in ways suited to our neurology. We usually aren’t, because people freak out about our weaknesses & leave our strengths unexplored. They focus on teaching us menial tasks we may never master.
So instead of toddler boot camp (ABA) to potty train and use a spoon, just wait longer and focus on the strengths. Feed the interests and talents. The other things will come eventually, or you find ways to accommodate them.
I have a friend who is a biochemist. He wears pull-ups to work in a major facility doing very important work. I still can't read a click without spending a long time concentrating, but my grad school GPA was 4.0. My kid can't pull up her pants without help yet, but she reads.
She can't use a fork or spoon yet, but she is memorizing the periodic table of elements by her own interest and industry without me pushing it. Accommodate us and facilitate our interests. We LOVE to learn when it's suited to us.
Because sometimes badass real-life superheroes are nonspeaking, or they wear diapers, or they need a straw to not choke on their cocktails, or they use crutches or a wheelchair or sign language. Y'all need us. You made a mess out of this world.
It's going to take different kinds of mind to fix it. You'll have to stop killing us or breaking our spirits or creating a world where your most talented folk can't survive the social Darwinism of your schools and workplaces in the meantime. #ShineOnMax #AllAutistics
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