Monday, July 15, 2013


Let's face it.  The world is a dangerous place filled with predators, pitfalls, and myriad other risks.  It takes no notice of neurotypical/non-neurotypical.  It is savagely egalitarian. My ponderings recently have trended toward things that are common in the experiences of both groups.  I spend the majority of my time exposing the world of Autism to a neurotypical audience.  In my current thinking, I find both worlds tragically and wonderfully linked.

It's common knowledge that Autistic kids don't naturally develop communication, social, coping, and numerous other skills.  Those skills are exposed and taught by a method I've come to call "modeling".  Parents of non-neurotypical kids develop this method without planning or forethought, at least the good ones do.  The missing skills are taught by thousands of repetitions.  The child faces a challenge, the parent presents the words, skills, choices needed to successfully handle it.  Over time, the child learns and grows.  The term "role play" doesn't fully capture it.  We teach them by literally being what we want them to learn.

Over time, I've realized that this has application far beyond Autism.  Often, the neurotypical need this as well.  The "missing pieces" in their lives aren't due to genetics.  Tragically they are due to people.  Damaged people damage people.  Abusive/neglectful parents and spouses, predators, and sociopaths of all type and stripe leave those they encounter with emotional deficits that bear striking similarity to those caused by Autism.  The emotional damage is communication oriented, socially stunting, and debilitating to coping abilities.  Unlike the deficiencies caused by Autism, the emotional wounds to the neurotypical are poisoned, much like a scorpion's sting.  The greatest damage done is in the neurotypical person's ability to love and be loved.  This is where our modeling skills can improve their world as well.

Those of us who raise Autistic kids have received an expensive "crash course" in loving a person in spite of their "issues".  It took me years to see this, but I saw it one day rather unexpectedly.  A dear friend had injured her foot.  I bandaged it.  It seemed the logical, "friend" thing to do.  No biggie.  I got this.  When I looked up and saw her face, it became clear to me that something else was going happening on her end of the equation.  At first I thought I was physically hurting her.   After processing the experience for an hour or so, it occurred to me.  No one had ever done that for her before.  I know her story.  This knowledge filled in the gaps that logic couldn't.  For me, it was nothing.  I have an accident-prone wife.   My boys were Cub Scouts.  Someone gets an owie, you “fix it”.  No biggie, at least not for me.  For her, it was a new experience.  We both learned in one simple, seemingly logical encounter.

One simple, seemingly logical act taught us both something important.  For her, it modeled a compassion that she'd never seen, yet I considered "pedestrian".  For me, it showed that what Autism has taught me has much greater application than "just Autism".  It's another instance of losing track of who is the actual teacher, parent or child.  I learned that "modeling" isn't just for teaching my son.  I can model healthy interaction for all those in my world, knowing that some may desperately need a demonstration of what I consider  normal and as automatic as breathing.  Maybe "can" isn't the right word.  I MUST model healthy interaction for all those in my world.  

I've long known that our "special kids" impact their world in ways that those around them desperately need.  Their honesty, rabid loyalty, and gentle souls provide a respite for those they encounter.  The lessons they teach us introduce a new responsibility to our world.  We quite literally surrounded by those whose lives would be forever changed by our modeling the honesty, compassion, integrity, and love that our children have taught us.  All we have to do is look.  They are there. 

We have no acceptable alternative.  Dare we disrespect what we and our children have paid so dear a cost to learn?  We must look.  We must act.  We must model.

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