There’s an interesting narrative going around that autism isn’t a disability, that individuals with autism have “different abilities.” In some cases, this rings true. However, the percentage of autistic people without these special gifts far outweighs the people who are fortunate enough to bear amazing talents.
I’m a mum to a 16-year-old young man named Trevor. He is on the lower end of the autism spectrum. His verbal communication is quite limited, he cannot tie his shoelaces and his main food staple is toast with butter, a side of cucumbers and maybe a slice of cheese on a good day. Trevor attends a special needs school and he’s an overall happy guy. He is a lovely boy if I do say so myself.
I browse the internet quite often. I follow a few autism accounts on Facebook and Instagram, and many post incredible videos and stories about autistic individuals with amazing talents or achievements.
One child I saw had a hidden talent for art and he now sells his paintings across the globe. Another had an incredible gift for gymnastics. One boy was able to build a replica of the Titanic made solely of Lego, while another has become a professional NASCAR driver. Not to mention the lovely young woman who was able to become the first openly autistic lawyer in the state of Florida.
Granted, all of these individuals have varying degrees of autism. Some non-verbal while others are obviously on the higher-functioning end of the autism spectrum.
But what about my son?
My son has little to no interest in art. His poor gross-motor skills prevent him from ever becoming the next gold medal Olympian, and he will not attend college after he completes high-school, so any dreams of becoming a lawyer, doctor, engineer are just that, dreams.
I know I may sound bitter to you, but I’m not. I have a tremendous amount of love for my son, I’m just a realist.
When Trevor was young, I worried about his future. My husband was always quick to point out that he would find his way. Here we are, ten years later and we’re no closer to discovering a hidden talent or passion.
While I do appreciate and even enjoy watching videos featuring autism success stories, more often than not, it’s not true to life.
Many autistic individuals struggle on a daily basis. They struggle to communicate. They struggle with daily self-care skills that you and I take for granted. Others struggle with severe anxiety and sensory processing issues which often lead to meltdowns. None of these traits and behaviours would make for an interesting and motivating video or quote about autism I suppose.
My point is that yes, it’s wonderful that these stories exist, but I’m concerned about the false hope these stories give autism families, particularly to those who have children who have been newly diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
Autism is a very complex disorder that can (not always) prevent an individual from leading a fulfilling life. Enough with the false hopes and glamourizing of autism. Let’s stop pretending that autism is a gift.