I posted this on my other blog, Penelope George. It makes sense to put it here, too.
I know people are put off by Shayla’s autism. I’ve seen it firsthand, and though people try to be polite, you can’t sugercoat rejection. Because it hurts to see my daughter rejected for what she cannot help, I’m working on a simple “how to” list for people we come in contact with on a regular basis. This is not the final draft, but it’s a good start.
Shayla isn’t rude. She has trouble choosing the right words, and she does not understand body language. But she is trying to understand you, and she is trying to communicate back to you what she thinks you want to hear.
She isn’t ignoring you. It takes her longer to process what you said, with context, subtext, and possible meanings. She does this better when she is looking away, because everything else is a distraction.
All distractions are major for her. They divert her focus completely away from her task at hand. She cannot stop it. It’s as automatic to her as reading facial expressions is to you.
She is quite happy in the company of others without interacting. But she is always paying attention. She can be prompted to interact, but she does not do small talk and she does not have the social tools for initiating conversations.
She prefers to write rather than visit. When she’s texting,,emailing, or messaging, there is nothing for her to decode except the words on the page.
She isn’t lazy. She has challenges with Executive Function, the instinctive ability to analyze, plan, organize, and schedule. Without it she cannot plan how to complete a task, and she is overwhelmed.
She isn’t stupid. In fact, she is be quite smart, and her brain has created clever pathways to cover what isn’t firing right. But the way of the classroom does not work for her. Give her a YouTube video with a visual – step by step (there’s that executive function stuff again!) – and she can learn anything. Give her a classroom, without the visual aids but with all the peripheral distractions, a disinterested instructor, and social and context cues her brain cannot decode, and she is lost. Take her out of the classroom and plunk her down with the kids who have far greater challenges than she, and her senses become overwhelmed. Just because she is the highest functioning child in the room does not mean she is high functioning.
Her mind is never blank. When she looks spaced out or dazed, it’s because her attention is turned inward.
She wants friends, but she needs people who accept that she has autism. She can’t be like all the other kids and no amount of avoiding her will change that, but when everyone grows up she won’t seem as different. Most 14 year olds have a lot of growing up to do. She’s just growing up on her own path.
She has value. She is bright, funny, creative, and loving. She wants to marry and have a family. She is surrounded by people who love her, and who she loves, too. She matters.