Blessed By Autism
As I write this, Thanksgiving is just days away, and the holiday season begins. Despite lots of stress and some big challenges over the past months, I anticipate these occasions with a renewed sense of awe.
When obstacles seem to be around every corner of our lives, it’s often hard to feel thankful. But I’m reminded that it’s the obstacles, in fact, that allow us to be thankful. If not for life’s challenges, what would we have to be thankful for?
That brings me to a fundamental principle of Awe in Autism’s philosophy: People with disabilities are a unique gift to the human race. By the very fact of their special needs, people who depend on our help and care enable us to understand how much more there is to life than the things most neurotypicals relish: prestige, wealth, time for vacations and entertainment … the marks of “success” in our society. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with having these things. It’s that they often get in the way of what’s most important.
In my relationships with families caring for loved ones with disabilities, I have found two things to be true: The first is that they experience greater hardships than others; the second is that they experience deeper joy. The definition of “success” for these families is very different from the norm. Success comes in baby steps, and small accomplishments are a cause for celebration – a cause for thanksgiving.
People often ask me why I cofounded an autism organization when I don’t have a child on the spectrum. A partial answer is that I was profoundly impacted by the experience of my partner, Kim, and by her son Dylan, who has autism. Kim and Dylan certainly were the inspiration for my involvement in Awe in Autism. When we began, though, I had no idea of what I would learn as I developed relationships with people on the spectrum and with those who love them. I only knew that I wanted to help in some small way. Over the past year and a half, I’ve come to realize that my friends with disabilities and the families who support them have given me much more than I have given them. They – and when I say “they,” I mean many of you – have given me deeper appreciation for even the smallest blessings in life.
I don’t mean the blessings of not having autism, or of not having to care for someone with autism; I mean the blessings that come with autism, or with any disability. I am blessed by the insight, the courage, the absence of pretense, the determination, the humor and, of course, the creativity that autism inspires. Yes, there are many on the autism spectrum whose challenges are severe – who may never drive a car, hold a job, create a piece of art. Their value is no less. They teach us patience, perseverance, understanding and acceptance; they teach us to love unconditionally. I believe the world is a better place, and we are better human beings, because of the presence of individuals with autism in our lives. And I am thankful for them.
Kim and I wish each of you a wonderful Thanksgiving full of blessings.