One myth that is commonly propagated in the general media is that a diagnosis of autism is the equivalent of losing a child to a fatal disease. It may feel that way to a parent for a while, but I have yet to meet a parent who would trade their child in for another without autism. Parents and anyone else who takes the time to get to know a child with autism will tell you that children with autism bring important gifts to families, schools, and communities. I believe that this is because children with autism both exemplify and inspire human virtues in a unique way.
I fall in love with children who have autism in exactly the same way I fall in love with other people--by getting to know a unique, amazing human being and finding a genuine connection. But there is something, some quality that is common in many children who have autism that I find particularly attractive and enjoyable. I feel like these children nudge me toward becoming a better person by making me look at the world differently and at myself in new ways. In these children I find inspiration for being a little more courageous, persistent, honest, logical, sincere... the list goes on.
Virtues are gems of the human spirit that are evident in all human beings. It is not that virtues are missing in children who do not have autism . Not at all. But human virtues are demonstrated in unexpected ways in children who have autism and this draws my attention. Last week, working with a little boy for the third time, I was getting a little discouraged by how often he was moving away from me. I was second guessing my choice of activities, my presentation of games, even the room we were playing in. Unexpectedly, this little boy backed into me and laid his head against my arm. He can't yet tolerate looking at me face-to-face but he wanted me to know that he likes me. In this child I see the beauty of a sincere expression of affection.
I understand better what it means to have courage when a mother this fall, tells me that her child has been doing amazingly well in Kindergarten despite the fact that he begged to stay home from school every day last year. This year, he follows every routine and rule in school with such obvious effort that his teachers are delighted. But when he comes home each day he literally tantrums for twenty minutes before falling asleep exhausted. In the afternoon, he often practices "school" in his pretend play. Then, the next day, he willingly gets on the bus to do it all again.
Here is a video that makes this point of appreciating what autism means from a different perspective: