Tuesday, August 4, 2015

An Essay on Neurodiversity

High Functioning Mommy here.  As I may have pointed out in the past, I self-identify as Autistic. I graduated high school "by the skin of my teeth" back in 1999.  I struggled greatly in math and any science class involving algebra.  I also had (have?) an extremely short attention span and it showed in my grades...I was a straight C student except when it came to tests, midterms, and finals.

I first attempted community college in 2001 and flunked out of most of my classes within a few weeks.  I took too many classes on and between that and professors giving 0 quiz grades for not being to afford textbooks, I only ended up finishing maybe one art class or two.

After that one failed year, I went to work, spending my time various retail jobs until the spring of 2010, when Destructo's unpredictable sleep schedule coupled with his various medical issues at the time finally caught up with me, and I left my job.

I remained a stay-at-home-mom until July.  At my husband's urging, I enrolled in a condensed summer session class at our local community college just to "get my feet wet."  I wasn't sure how I would do, but Destructo Daddy for some reason had faith in me.  I also went back to work part-time!

The following was my first assignment. Our topic was on a belief we strongly held.  After some pre-writing exercises and lots of editing, this was my final essay. My first version was was six pages long...the final version was three (double spaced, of course).

I hereby present...an essay on neurodiversity.

When it comes to disabilities, mainstream cultural norms need to evolve.  This is especially true in regards to autism.  Autism is a neurological disorder that is characterized by problems in socialization, communication, and sensory processing.  Old fashioned judgements are common when it comes to autism.  Two of the most common are sympathy and anger, usually as abrupt reaction to an autistic person’s behavior.  Autistics can and do lead fulfilling, happy lives as well as having their own version of cultural norms.  If the world could embrace neurodiversity, they would realize their engrained responses are unnecessary.  Neurodiversity is the belief that neurological conditions such as autism are not in need of curing, but a natural evolution and should be accepted and supported.
Consider this this scenario. You’re minding our own business at the grocery store. While enjoying the ambiance, you are suddenly jolted out of your thoughts by a child screaming, and you think to yourself, “What a brat!”  You glance at the other end of the aisle and see a woman peeling a little school age boy off the linoleum and giving him a bear hug. 
            Now, experience their point of view.  An exhausted mother is shopping with her son.  Unbeknownst to you, her little boy has autism and today he is home sick.  His mother is holding his hand tightly while they shop.  He doesn’t like this place.  It smells bad.  He hears a buzzing that hurts his ears.  He looks up, and immediately is overwhelmed by the harsh glare of the florescent lights.  His body hurts from being sick.  He becomes anxious, this place make him feel “bad,” and he wants to go home.  Home is “safe.”
After a few minutes, the little boy asks, “All done?  Go to the car?”  His mother knows this means he’s ready to go.  But she also knows he’s out of the only dinosaur chicken nuggets he’ll eat.  So she replies, “Soon, honey. Not yet.”  Flight or fight takes over, and he cannot cope with his anxiety, his pain, and the horrible smells anymore.  With a loud scream, he yanks on his mother’s hand and begins to fall backwards.  This mother knew her son wasn’t feeling well, yet she was secretly hoping that he would hold it together until she finished shopping.  His mom manages to get him standing and hugs him tightly.
            I am that mom.  Neurodiversity is important to me because I am surrounded by autism daily.  I did not realize it until I became the mother of an autistic child, but I was surrounded by several different facets of high functioning autism in childhood as well.  My younger brother and father face similar challenges.  I had my first child, a son, after a normal pregnancy.  My child was diagnosed with autism a few months shy of his second birthday.  As I learned what a lot of the common traits were…as well as the uncommon quirks, I realized I had been surrounded by them my whole life because they were part of my cultural norm.  I have heard of many instances of parents mourning their child’s new diagnosis, my son’s simply brought me relief.      
Prior to entering primary school, my son’s education started as a toddler due to his need for physical, speech, occupational therapy, as well as special education. These formative years are very important and “early intervention” leads to better lifelong outcomes for the child. We discovered his many strengths. Eye contact and speech improved when his body was given certain types of physical input, such as deep pressure and swinging.  By the time he was five, we figured out he was likely hyperlexic; he can read, spell, and mostly pronounce words most children do not learn until second or third grade, though his comprehension for some of these words is delayed.
            Public outings can be challenging.  A common phrase in the autism world is, “Behavior is communication.”  It is important to understand this concept when it comes to a non-verbal or speech delayed person.  A child suffering from a meltdown does not care you think, nor have any regard for their own safety.  I often say to onlookers, “Don’t worry, he’s just autistic,” or, “Don’t mind him, he’s just spreading some autism awareness.”  And often, the immediate reply is, “I’m so sorry.”
            This is where attitudes need to change.  Often, I feel offended when people try to show sympathy. But I also realize they think this an appropriate thing to say, or it’s the best they can come up with on short notice. This is especially true since I often jolt people into realizing they’ve figuratively put their foot in mouth by judging my parenting skills.  The condolences are unnecessary.

            I do my best to promote neurodiversity by sharing my life experiences with autism. I hope I have shown that, at least in my family’s situation, we are not suffering though we do have many challenges.  If I am unable to further this concept by introducing the world and my son to each other, I try to educate through social media platforms such as a blog and Facebook page that I share with another “autism mom” who is a dear friend of mine. We are just one among many autism blogs that exist along with likely hundreds of other autism blogs out there; in fact we follow many ourselves.  We have many of the same goals, such as praising and promoting neurodiversity as well as autism awareness, be it through chronicling our fight with school districts to get the services our children need, or sharing something amusing our child did that only other autism parents can appreciate.  It’s not always a disability, just a different ability.  Autism is a culture on its own. 

You might be an autism parent if...you buy the last of "THE" chicken nuggets you need left in the freezer case even though you weren't planning on buying that much.