I had the radio on while getting through the morning routine a couple of days back, when a story came on about the increase in autism diagnoses, sitting at about 1 in 68 is the latest figure out of the States. My autistic son overheard the story, his immediate response? “That’s good!”
I couldn’t help but smile at his response because it shows me how settled he is with his diagnosis. It doesn’t scare him, and the idea of more people in the world being like him is a delightful thought from his perspective.
He’s not blind to the difficulties that come with autism – he knows it makes it harder for him to understand and interact with people, he knows it makes him highly anxious about changes in routine and that it can make him behave quite differently in a way that people find confusing – but neither is he blind to what he sees as the advantages it brings. He has an amazing thirst for knowledge of reality, he seeks truth, and has a rather powerful memory for retaining the truths when he finds them. He experiences and understands the world in a different way than most people, but that can be as much of a benefit as a hindrance, dependent on the amount of support that he receives along the way. He makes me see the world differently too, from angles and points of focus that simply hadn’t occurred to me in the past. I don’t think I can say he is gifted, but there are days when I consider him a gift.
When he said that having more autistic people in the world was a good thing, I did decide to discuss the issue further with him, because I want him to understand it negatively affects some people far in excess of how it now impacts on him, while I also made it clear some people have a much milder impact of autism on their lives than on his own. It is, after all, a spectrum. He appears to understand this point, just as much as he appears to understand that autism has made life harder for him in a number of ways too, yet he’s still glad there are more people in the world like him (let’s put aside debates about the real meaning of the increase in numbers for now, though I am personally of the view that any increase in diagnoses tells you little about real increase over time).
I’m OK that he sticks to his (overly) positive view of autism, because he doesn’t have to have a negative view of it: he is not a researcher trying to solve a puzzle; he is not a fundraiser trying to scare people into opening their wallets wider; he is not an educator trying to put together a desperate case for more classroom support. He’s just an 8 year-old boy living his mostly-pretty-happy life, all that really matters for him and for me as his mother right now in terms of his attitude, is that he doesn’t see autism as some fixed limitation on what he can achieve in life now and in the future, and that he doesn’t feel bad about who he is.
If he wants to love his autism, that’s fine by me. In fact, that’s good.