I was sitting around a conference table at The University of Washington Autism Center with my wife Jen and two therapists discussing what we should do—how they wanted to give him drugs and we didn’t want to—and the conversation was building toward an argument when it occurred to me that we weren’t talking about drugs, or Autism, or even Sawyer, we were talking about what it meant to be human.
In fact, it occurred to me that whenever we talked about these kids we were talking about what it meant to be human. Are these children, some of whom can’t walk or talk, less human than we are? It sounds like an absurd question, I know, and yet we often treat them as such, as if they have arrived and are some weird and special version of human, and so we give them special education, and say that they have special needs. All of this is done with gentleness, and yet hovering over all this gentleness is the quiet thought that maybe their specialness means they are a little less than those of us who are not labeled special.
As the parent, you know within you this isn’t so. You held them in your arms as you would have any infant, and you perceived with a parents’ eyes their perfection, their total humanness. And so, if these children that we call autistic are as human as those of us we do not call autistic, that means that everything we think about them, we think about ourselves.
That is the real, moment-to-moment challenge for most parents. What we think about them we are simultaneously thinking about ourselves. For instance, how tempting to begin to see these children and their behavior as one-in-the-same. After all, parents and teachers and therapists and doctors are always focused on the child’s behavior. Why are they doing this, and why aren’t they doing that? If only they would behave normally maybe I could sleep at night, maybe I could look in the mirror and know that I am seeing a good mother or father.
But do you want to be seen as one-in-the same with your behavior? Think of the partners you slept with that you didn’t love but only desired; think of the drugs you may have taken; think of the lies you have told; think of the unfair criticisms you’ve leveled at loved ones and strangers. Were any of these behaviors you or merely a reflection of your perception at a given moment? Had you not done the best you could given what you understood and perceived, and had you not learned from those experiences so that your behavior could change the next time?
The world of judgment lives in behavior. Our behaviors are measured in tests, are put on trial in the courtroom. Yet despite all success and failure, all guilt and innocence, their beats within us that which cannot be measured or compared, which is never guilty and never broken. That is you, a perfect thing in search of its own perfect expression.
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I am the author of Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence, and Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. Learn more here.