There’s something about the miracle of the gift of life that connects us in ways that often get overshadowed by the differences that distinguish us; differences that make us unique. Those differences are often the things about us that make us easy to identify and categorize; things like race, class, wealth, gender, height, weight, dialect, intellect, hair color, skin complexion, hair texture, occupation, aesthetic, ability, disability, etc., etc.
Those differences are almost always visible to the naked eye, which is how it becomes much easier to isolate, divide, and disenfranchise people based on the characteristics that distinguish us in our collective human experience. The problem with this truth is that those characteristics often become the criteria by which we assign value to people’s lives, which is always based on our perception of their worth and the value that we think they add to society.
Now, add to that the fact that the things that truly distinguish us and make us “different” from everybody else are the things that cannot always be seen with the naked eye; things like personality, temperament, mental status, intellect, stressors, thoughts, processing ability, etc., etc. These are the “differences” that are seen only after your worth has been determined and your value has been assessed in accordance with the dictates of society, when people take notice of the little quirks and idiosyncrasies that further differentiate and distinguish us.
This systematic process of disenfranchisement is a dangerous truth about the current state of our reality because this is where society begins to lose its strength, and humanity begins to lose its power, which happens every time we allow ourselves to remain complacent in our ignorance about what we believe to be true without challenging our thought process; especially when it comes to how we see other people and the things that make them “different.”
Let’s be honest…
Do you ever take a moment to stop and think about why you think the way you do, especially when it comes to how you think about what makes you different from the people around you? Do you ever question your thoughts and your beliefs when you notice yourself subconsciously thinking about another person and making judgments about that person based on your preconceived stereotypes about how that person is?
The truth of the matter is that we’ve all engaged in this pattern of judgmental behavior at some point in our lives. If we’re completely honest with ourselves, we’ll be able to admit that we engage in this type of behavior more often than we’re willing to admit because we secretly feel a certain level of connectedness by allowing ourselves to believe that the things that distinguish us in the mainstream of society make us feel as if we’re somehow “better” than everyone else. Then, we seek to align ourselves with people who hold similar thoughts and beliefs, and our social circles become very closed to the thought that anything other than what we believe to be true can be right—which leaves the doors of exclusion and disenfranchisement wide-open for all the “rejected ones” to walk through.
We never really stop to think about the costs of our subconscious actions, or how our subconscious actions effect the people around because we do these things without thinking about them. Regardless of how inappropriate or untimely those subconscious actions may be in the moment, they can be hurtful and degrading—especially when those actions are driven by unfounded, deep-seated thoughts, perceptions, beliefs, or stereotypes about a person.
Most of us are able to compensate for the ignorance that we experience in our daily lives because we’re able to read the social cues that reminds us of the obvious, and, at times, the subtle differences that distinguish us. Most of us are able to interpret facial expressions and things like vocal inflection, body language, and tone-of-voice—necessary components of the communication process. This is when some of those “differences” that make us unique—the ones that we cannot see—start to become visible. That’s why increasing awareness about Autism Spectrum Disorder is so important.
I first heard about the autism spectrum a little over ten years ago when I started working in compliance management for early childhood development and education programs. At that time, efforts to increase awareness about the autism spectrum were becoming more prevalent because people began to express concern about the children missing developmental milestones—especially those milestones related to speech and language development. As concern about normative childhood development continued to rise, an even greater emphasis was placed on increasing awareness about this neurodevelopmental disorder. As people became more aware of the symptoms associated with Autism, the number of children screened also increased; as did efforts to gain a better understanding of what Autism is, what causes it, and can it be either cured.
Through my work, I learned a lot about Autism Spectrum Disorder, and how it affects children. I developed a healthy respect for parents and caregivers, and I developed a level of empathy that would stay with me, as I watched professionals, parents, caregivers, medical doctors, educators, etc. do whatever they could to help a child reach their full potential; despite the intensity of that child’s level of need. I remember being in awe of the parents and caregivers that I met who gave their all to ensure that their child’s needs were met.
In complete and total honesty, I remember being thankful for my “neurotypically”-developing daughter, as I tried to “put-myself-in-the-shoes” of some of the parents that I met that had children in the programs designated for those “with the most intensive needs.” I remember being so thankful for my “normal” child because, despite my efforts to imagine what it would be like to have to care for a child with highly-intensive special needs, I could not.
Fast-forward to today, and I find myself engaged in efforts to increase awareness about Autism Spectrum Disorders now more than ever before; reason being, I was blessed with a son who was diagnosed with “Autism Spectrum Disorder” but you wouldn’t be able to tell by just looking at him. When you look at my son, you’ll see a little boy who looks like any other seven-year-old boy—a smart, inquisitive little boy who likes to ride his bike…who likes to play the piano…who likes swimming…who likes being outside and exploring nature…who likes video games…etc.…. etc.—who has the same interests as his typically-developing peers.
In his case, you won’t know that my son has any type of “special needs” until you start to observe him in social situations where he must either communicate with his peers or during times of transition between activities (especially when transitioning from a preferred activity to a non-preferred activity). That’s when you’d begin to “see” how he’s affected by Autism. My son still struggles at times in social situations, but he continues to show improvement in communication and socialization, thanks to ongoing treatment and therapy.
There are those times and situations when other kids see him playing at the playground and try to engage him or an adult might say “hello” to us at the grocery store when I see him begin to struggle to interpret basic social cues. To the kids, it might seem like my son doesn’t want to play with them, but as I provide subtle social cues to my son to help him understand the social situation, he eventually engages with his peers. To the adult, it may seem like my son is being either shy or standoffish, which is okay because even though we want him to speak more expressively, we’re trying to help him to identify strangers as anyone who doesn’t come to our house to visit with our family on a regular basis.
The key takeaway here is that we should never underestimate the importance of self-evaluation and self-assessment. We should all take a moment to challenge what we think about people who are inherently different than us; specifically, how we think about people who are different than us, and what we believe about people who are different than us. As we begin to “see” our truth during this “process of self-assessment and self-assessment,” we should be able to identify how our subconscious actions impact others; especially those on the autism spectrum who often have difficulty navigating social situations and with communication, in general.
Copyright © 2018
Credit: Creative Commons Zero (CC0)/Dreamtime Photo ID 91758620