Well-meaning advice to an Autistic Child.
I sat up late one night to write the letter you are about to read. I should have gone to bed, but an impassioned plea from a Mother whose child was having difficulties at school with his peers prevented me from being able to sleep. The words “I hate it when I’m being autistic” made my eyes fill up, and I reacted with all the usual common sense of unregulated compulsion, out of a desire to ease the hurt that resonated in my own childhood memories.
It should be borne in mind that this letter is simplistic, and meant to be understood by an American 7 year old, though since sharing it on social media I have been thanked by people much older than this from different countries who have found a message for themselves or their own children within it. It is presented exactly as it was written, and contains a couple of hints of what Autism means to me. It is loosely based on the talk I had with my own children a couple of years ago. What’s important isn’t who wrote it, or the ripple in an espresso cup that it has caused amongst those I am proud to call my peers or the strokes my ego has received since I tentatively put it out there for others, but the feelings of the child it was addressed to, and the stolen sense of self-worth that I wanted however clumsily, to try and restore.
You’ve noticed that you’re different than most of the other kids in school. You’ve noticed that the biggest difference is that most of the kids behave like buttheads towards you. Your Mom says that you hate yourself when you’re being Autistic. That makes me sad.
You were not being Autistic when you defended yourself against a bunch of bullies, you were being angry at being mistreated, and rightfully so. The choices you made when you reacted will be criticised by your teachers and many adults, but know that I am proud that you had the bravery to fight back. The advice that I gave my children about that sort of thing might horrify your Mom, so I’m going to let her deal with that. I want to tell you some other stuff.
Being Autistic can be hard, especially when you’re a kid. All the noises, the way light hurts, how difficult it can be to pay attention to the things you need to in order to pass classes, or avoid fights. The way other kids make fun of you or call you stupid when you say something that’s perfectly correct, only they are not smart enough to understand why you said it, or what it means, or why you HAD to say it and couldn’t stop yourself. It can suck farts, pretty big time.
Here is something that is true. People will believe a lie. They will believe it because they are scared it’s true, or because they want it to be true. Lots of everything that people who are not Autistic think they know about Autism is wrong, or lies. There are lots of very dull grown-up reasons for this. If you ask your Mom to get a book called Neurotribes and you read it together and talk about it, you will figure a lot of stuff out, because being Autistic can make you super-smart in lots of ways, even though you might feel super-stupid in lots of other ways until you get older.
I’m pretty old now (probably older than your mom!), and I didn’t know I was Autistic until my son was 3 years old, and I had all of the troubles you’re having, and more. If you have people that love you, that you can talk to, and will listen to you, you have a big advantage. I had to figure out EVERYTHING all on my own! (I didn’t even know I could wipe my butt without standing up until I was 28 years old!!)
Most people are scared of anyone who is different to them, or anyone they can’t understand, and they are not clever enough to realise this, so they make fun of the different people, or try to hurt them, because they don’t know any better.
I’m going to tell you some Autistic secrets. This is big Tribal Stuff, so your Mom has to swear to keep the secrets, and you have to remember to keep them inside yourself so the other kids don’t find out, because they will be angry if they do. (Because they can’t understand)
You can do things in your head that some people wouldn’t even understand the idea of. I’ll bet you can think really well in pictures, or in numbers. I’ll bet that you have ideas about things that are amazing, that no-one understands. This is part of what being Autistic ACTUALLY means. I’ll bet there’s stuff that you’re really interested in, and know all about, that seems weird to other people. There is NOTHING WRONG with this. Without Autism, without the guy sitting on his own in the back of the cave wondering why one rock had sharp bits and another didn’t, we wouldn’t have cars, or bicycles, or skateboards, or electricity, or Pokemon, or Math. There wouldn’t be Art, or Science, there wouldn’t be TV or movies or anything fun or cool. Everyone would still be eating nuts and berries and animals they could only cook if they found a fire made by lightning. (And chatting a lot about nothing!)
You can see things that other people will not, you can think about things in ways that other people cannot, you can feel and smell things that other people are unaware of, and you are part of a Tribe that doesn’t have any one colour or language and is spread across the whole world, a Tribe that is older than religion! Another thing only the Tribe knows is that the PROPER spelling is AWEtistic.
I can’t lie to you (that’s against our rules) Until you are old enough to make your own decisions, a lot of life is going to be a humongous pain in the butt, but things like the uncontrollable anger, and the despair and misery that overwhelm you, they CAN be beaten and controlled. It’s going to be really, really hard to learn some of this stuff, but with support you can do ANYTHING, seriously!
I have a full life, and kids of my own and an incredible lady who is smarter than me who thinks I’m great and wants to marry me. I run my own business doing a job that I am one of the best at in my whole country, and I wouldn’t have been able to do this if I wasn’t Autistic. Some of my life is really difficult, and I need to rest up more often than some people, but I always bounce back eventually. Sometimes I’m sad, and I feel that more than other people, and sometimes I’m happy, and I feel THAT more than other people, too. But I would never, ever change who I am, even if I had the choice. I have an 11 year old son and an 8 year old daughter, who know that they are Awesome too. He likes computers (and Minecraft) and thinking about things like teleport theory, and she loves Art and Math and Archery, and wants to be a Veterinarian when she grows up.
Your Mom knows where to find some of us, and when you’re old enough so will you. We will ALWAYS help you to help yourself, we will ALWAYS be rooting for you, we will ALWAYS care about you and cheer for you when you achieve. Even though we don’t know you, we love you almost as much as your Mom does because we all know EXACTLY how it is and how you feel right now. Most of us have had the same problems, and the same struggles, and all of us are still learning how to People, every day.
Getting along with other people is kind of important later on, but not as important as getting along with yourself right now. NEVER be ashamed of who and what you are, and try hard to learn how not to care about what other people think. Autism is no excuse for slacking off, or behaving badly on purpose, but I promise you, as long as you do your best and try your hardest you need never ever be ashamed of failing – you can always try again when you are ready.
You keep on being you. Unless you get a chance to be Batman. It would be cool to be Batman….
Your Autistic friend