I recently read a facebook post on A Diary of a Mom’s page that struck a chord with me on multiple levels. It’s a conversation between DOAM’s daughter and her aide about the daughter liking a particular cartoon (that isn’t “age appropriate” for her physical age). Here it is – (emphasis added by me):
“My favorite conversation of the day:
Brooke to her aide, the awesome Ms J: “Max and Ruby is a cartoon.”
Ms J: “Yes it is.”
Brooke: “They’re bunnies.”
Ms J: “Yes they are.”
…Brooke: “Am I too big for Max and Ruby now?”
**Me, holding my breath, wondering what Ms J will say**
Ms J: “Does it make you happy?”
Does. It. Make. You. Happy? Sit with that for a while. How does that feel?
I know that this post was inspired by the experience of Brooke, a young autistic girl. But this is an issue that affects all of us, neurotypical or not. I know it affected (and still does a little) me.
I’m a geek, but I’m a girl (35 years ago, it was “weird” to be a geeky girl). I like Star Trek, Dr. Who, and all that good stuff. I went to conventions. I dressed up for a couple of them! I was “not normal” – at least, not compared to the rest of my peers. It hurt.
I feel deeply and think deeply. And that didn’t fit in with my family or peers a lot of the time. “Why are you so upset about that?” “What are you so excited about that for?”. The implicit “wrongness” of who I was – what I felt – what was important to m, coming from all directions – it hurt.
What is this strange need that society seems to have, this drive to squash the uncommon, the different, the outside-the-typical?
Why do others react with judgement or derision when what makes OTHERS happy is not something that makes THEM happy?How is this hurting them? Where does this defensiveness come from?
WHAT IS THIS NEED TO MAKE OTHERS FEEL small SO THEY CAN FEEL BIG?
Well, I don’t put up with it anymore. Not for myself, not for my family, my friends, and especially not for my son.
My son is special. He’s autistic. He is what is considered “high functioning” because he has excellent language and academic skills. He can “pass” for neuro-typical sometimes. But he sees the world from a different perspective. He’ll flap a tiny bit when he’s super excited. He goes into “professor mode” when he talks about things he is interested in.
He is 6, so much of the world is new to him. He drinks up experiences like a thirsty person drinks water. His smile lights up the room. His laugh tickles the heart. He has so much joy in him. Very few of us NT’s allow ourselves to feel this level of joy anymore. I watch kids my son’s age at the parks, at the play-places, at daycare, and I see the unfettered joy of childhood gradually fading away from them. It’s as if it’s not “cool” to be that engaged with something. I don’t know if this is a “normal” phase of human development, or if it’s a social construct that comes of not knowing how to cope with this depth of feeling – in ourselves or in others.
Just Stimming has a post on her blog that explains what I noticed in him, what I treasure, and what soccial norms are going to attempt to squash out of him (as they did with me for a while) – The Obsessive Joy of Autism . I want to protect it. I want to nurture it in myself, my son, and others who show it.
When others laugh, or smirk, or snicker, or look at you sideways when you feel passionate about something, a little piece of you can wither every time until you feel like that part of you is dead, until you feel as though there is no passion in you.
But that’s a big lie. A lie to make the passionate feel small, because others feel small around people with big passions – and instead of basking in the glow of that passion and supporting it, they squash it.
So that is why I love DOAM’s post so much – because when my son enjoys something, so much so that it seems “weird” to others, I am going to ask him “Does it make you happy?” – because that’s a good enough reason to keep that joy going.
And I’m going to make sure I do the same thing for myself and other’s too.