Today is World Autism Awareness Day – part of the month of April, which is autism awareness month.
We may know absolutely nothing about autism and know no one on the spectrum – but I’ll bet that you do – you just don’t know it. It is invisible – you may work it out eventually but, with those at the higher end of the spectrum you probably will have no idea unless you are told.
We may be aware of those at the other end of the spectrum – the children playing up in the supermarket because the lights, the noise, the people are driving their already hypersensitivities into overdrive and their poor mother is just exhausted with coping with every day.
Or we may know, or know of many of the people along the rainbow of colour in between.
We may know children – we may have less of an idea that we know of the adults who have learned to cope with many of the issues that are there for them every day, and hide them with coping strategies or copying behaviours in order to fit in.
But ‘seeing the world differently’? Different from whom?
When my son was small I used to think of autism as though it was an island where he was and an island where I was, and a bridge between. We spoke a different language. But then I realised the only way we were going to meet was if I crossed that bridge to him and gradually, as he picked up confidence and skills, he might just follow me back for a visit.
Mostly now we pop back and forth between each other’s islands – and I have realised over time that there are many islands like ours with bridges between. There is also some sort of mainland where many others live that I hadn’t recognised before and that I am not really part of either – seeing the world differently from them too – although I can go there occasionally when I have the energy, but it can be hard to do so.
And those people on the ‘mainland’ – they also see the world differently from each other, seeing it from their own viewpoint.
We all have similarities and differences – whoever we are, whatever we do, whether we have differing abilities and difficulties. We all have needs and feelings and thoughts of our own and similar experiences. What is different is the way that we ‘see’ these things, respond to and cope with them.
So, what do we need to do about that to become aware? Well in counselling we talk about the core conditions described by Carl Rogers, but these are not only part of the counselling world, but all our worlds every day.
It is showing gentle curiosity and interest in others and how to see the world from their point of view, trying to understand how that might be for them that is the same or different to the way it is for us.
It is not being judgemental or making assumptions, but learning more and accepting both the other person and their point of view – the way they see the world around them.
It is also accepting ourselves as we are and how we see the world, and that is ok. We don’t know everything, but it is ok to try to find out and understand. It is ok to not see the world from the same angle and in the same way as someone else. It is ok to have our own responses and ways of coping and learning and communicating.
The important thing is recognising those islands and building those bridges – and popping over to see one another sometimes.