Why is it that our society has been so trained to view differences before similarities? When we look at a stranger, we most often first see what makes them stand apart from us as opposed to what unites us together. This is especially evident in the Special Needs community and population. So often we label a person with special needs as autistic, mentally retarded, low-functioning, high-functioning, handicapped, disabled, etc. before we see them for the unique individual they are. Sure, that person may have autism, or have a disability a “typical” person doesn’t have, but that is not all they are, and it is certainly not who they are. So why do we continue to do this, year after year, day after day? We preach tolerance to our younger generations, but very rarely do we take the time to explain that tolerance should not be accompanied with pity, or a feeling of superiority over individuals with differences. After all, aren’t we ALL individuals with differences??
When I ( a “neurotypical” 26 year old female) look around at my peers, colleagues, friends, and family members, I can’t help but notice how different we all are. Different goals, different tastes, different styles. Different outlooks and perspectives on the same planet we live on. It is a keen reminder that all our worlds and experiences in this life are completely our own. No two worlds look alike. When I wake up and see a beautiful world, brand new and mysterious, my best friend wakes up in the very same apartment and sees another boring day of work ahead and a broken heart to heal. It is all about perspective and also all about timing. So why can we understand and empathize with certain individuals with different outlooks and behaviors, yet shun those who were unfortunately branded with a label before they could establish and own their unique and brilliant characteristics? Doesn’t make much sense to me.
As a professional with a passion for helping people on the autism spectrum declare and share their voice, I have been beyond blessed to work and play with some of the most incredible, caring, intelligent beings that walk this earth. Of course, thats my opinion, and my perspective. But I can guarantee by opening myself and making a conscious effort to see our similarities before our differences, I have learned far more from these children than I ever did in college or my job training. I have realized I possess many of the same attributes that supposedly differentiate people with autism from neurotypical people. I have my own quirky characteristics, my own “stems” (I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to talk without my hands, or hold my chest when im nervous!), and I certainly have my obsessions, and need my space. I don’t always accurately predict other people’s boundaries, and I certainly have inappropriate outbursts. Yet when I look around at all of my neurotypical peers, I see they all do as well. We are all more alike than we would perhaps like to admit. But perhaps if we celebrated our differences and accepted them, we’d realize we can unite through the things that separate us. We can accept each other for who we are, not what society has labeled us.
Just a thought for now.