A Place for All

by Jasmine Lee O'Neill

I write from the depths of myself. As an autistic lady, I have my own bubble world that encases me. In it, I have all the gifts, charms, personal experiences, and unique perceptions that create who I am. I am mute, but have rich inner language. I'm equipped to describe the many good things about being autistic. The negative is stressed by people who live on the outside, looking in. But, I'm on the inside, looking out, and don't view the condition of Autism as being bad at all.

Autistic individuals have a transcendent beauty. Their traits bespeak a separate, entire personality which is holistic-rather than an "illness," "abnormality," "retardation syndrome," or "disease" which must be eradicated. Every autistic person is different, yet there are certain characteristics common to us all.

Autism encompasses a great deal, and is not so narrowly defined as one would find in a dictionary. It soars beyond the simplistic definitions of ignorant people who see it as a person with low intelligence, who is aware of nothing. Actually, many autistic people are very bright and are hyperaware of their environment. They simply don't make their awareness known to others.

Because these special beings have ways of living that are quite out-of-the-ordinary, they are made outcasts. They are discriminated against at school, in the home, in public, and in the place of work. Some adults with Autism have been taught to be ashamed of themselves, so they often try to conceal the traits that make them stand out from the rest.

Autistic children don't deserve to be molded into someone they are not. They deserve to learn and grow, and feel comfortable about themselves. Their worlds can expand to include new experiences, and they can become teachers, opening others to their viewpoints.

It is not fair for an autistic person to expect anyone else to become or behave like an autistic. It's also unfair to expect the opposite, regardless of the fact that autistic people form a minority.

Taking any part of someone else's private world away is an offense. The specific behaviors that delight and soothe those with Autism seem to anger and perplex those without. However, if one doesn't like something, there is a reason. Is it fear of an unknown person who seems strange? Is it embarrassment of the person who is very different? Is it mockery? Is it misunderstanding? These can be corrected by education. There needs to be a general awareness of what Autism is, so people are no longer shocked by it. Society needs to reform its attitudes concerning people who don't fit in.

The special world of an autistic person is a very intense realm rooted in the person's core. A myriad of fragments gather themselves to cause perceptions that are etched into the mind. Acute or dulled senses, spectacular memory for details, self-stimulating behaviors, and an ability to be absorbed completely by a tiny particle are some characteristics that result from having a physically different brain structure. This brain is a whole other world. This brain is not a prison.

There is nothing wrong with being a withdrawn person. There is nothing wrong with not liking to be in crowds, and to prefer being alone. People who don't have social graces are not deficient or incomplete. Autistic people have a pure, self-generated way of thinking, due to their non-conformity. They have an innocence, and a wonderful honesty, which is the result of them seeing things exactly how they are. They can possess tremendous emotions, and can have relationships. They do care about others they like, even though their expressions aren't easily translated by outsiders.

To want a so-called "normal" life for one's child is actually a part of loving that child. The good parent wants his or her youngster to grow up happy, loved, feeling confident, and to be able to live a fulfilling life. Having autism does not destroy those potentials; it only alters their course. It changes how things must be accomplished. It creates a fascinating, complex individual who stands out and is remembered, even for little things. Instead of trying to push a "normal" life upon a person with Autism, the goal should be re-evaluated. Those who are autistic will always be autistic. They will have unusual behaviors and distinctly different thought patterns. They will have their personal routines and rituals. They will always exist apart from the regular flow of life. This is a blessing and a type of freedom.

One can't force a person who is not like everyone else to live a life like that of everyone else. "Normal" is what is expected and accepted, a standard of the masses. It does not fit all individuals to be that way, including even some non-autistic people. It is a compliment to me when people see me as different - even when someone says, "She's a bit weird," in a nice way, because it affirms my natural tendencies to skip along my own path. Trying to force an autistic person to totally blend in is to deny his or her own personality. It also is a fruitless action, since that person is still, forever, going to appear rather like one who is displaced from another land.

Autistic people don't do things just so others will say they are bizarre. They follow their own urges. They go about their lives to the rhythm of their own being.

The self-stimulation that is noticeable in autistic children needs to be accepted in autistic adults, too, since this condition is not out-grown. The rocking, toe-walking, hopping, hand-flapping, humming, starting at specific points, love of movement and shiny things, and the many more, including the ones unique to each individual, are a deep part of that person. They relax, delight or arouse. They are no different than the activities so-called normal people perform to feel good or get an exciting sensation, such as dancing, swimming, or having sexual intercourse. People get pleasure and joy in countless different ways. Autistic people perceive themselves as the center of their world, so they choose activities that begin and end in themselves, and are very close inside them. They do not differentiate between public spots and their own rooms when doing their self-stimulating activities. They are at once very free, and very controlled in their inner homes. They have surprising, unique ways of expressing themselves.

Autistic people are paradoxical. They need to be helped to cherish their differences, not to view them as barriers to life that must be overcome. They do not deserve to be put away in institutions, or to be pushed aside or covered by shields. They are real people who deserve to be part of the human experience. They must always be treated with loving care, patience, and respect. No matter how eccentric they may be, they do have a place, just as others have. The autistic person's place must be his own, and not that of someone else thrust upon him. Each autistic person is born with that right. It isn't earned only if he behaves as others think he should. It is his right to claim his place, even if he lives a very shy, quiet life. It is his right, even if he rocks in public, likes to look at his hands, pulls funny faces, speaks with a peculiar intonation (or doesn't speak at all), doesn't look often into other people's eyes or care much about their conversations, even if he is a savant in some areas, and very under-developed in others, even if he needs some type of care. He cannot be shunned in favor of someone who is considered socially acceptable.

Autistic people can do marvelous things. They need the space and opportunity to bloom, and the freedom to be themselves.

Jasmine Lee O'Neill is a writer and a young woman with autism. Reading, PA.

The Pennsylvania Journal on Positive Approaches is published by the Pennsylvania Office of Mental Retardation (OMR) Statewide Training Initiative through Temple University, Institute on Disabilities, University Affiliated Program and Contract Consultants, Inc., 105 Old York Road, New Cumberland, PA 17070. For subscription information, please contact Contract Consultants, Inc. at [717] 774 - 5455. Copyright 1996 OMR/CCI. All rights reserved.

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