I’m the mother of an autistic 11-year-old. Some people view autism through the lens of disease – they think autistic people are broken and need to be fixed. I choose to see autism as an example of neurodiversity: there are so many ways to exist in this world, so many colors, and life’s rainbow wouldn’t look as beautiful without all of us.
The best analogy I’ve ever heard on the subject of neurodiversity involves toast. Imagine your brain is a machine, made of gears and wires and plastic, and when you put all that stuff together, you get a toaster. Now imagine that most people have toasters for brains. They may be toaster ovens or two-slot models, they may make light toast or dark toast, but they all serve the same basic function. In such a world, a person’s worth would likely be judged by how well he could make toast.
Now imagine someone comes along with a head full of gears and wires and plastic, only when you put all that stuff together, you get a hair dryer. Hair dryers are terrific, and way better for styling hair than a toaster would ever be, but they make very strange toast. The person with the hair dryer-brain might feel inadequate in the toast-making department. The toaster-brains might shun him because his toast is bad. But boy, are they going to be grateful he’s around when their hair is wet.
You can cry about how inadequate your toast-making skills are, or you can embrace your hair dryer and be the best hair dryer you can be. I think of my brain as a flat iron – I’ll never be a real toaster, but I can pass for a mini panini press for brief periods until I overheat.
I’ll probably never meet you, but I’ll bet you’re quite a hair dryer. Maybe you’re one of those fancy Dyson Supersonic models, or maybe you’re that reliable Conair that’s stayed by my side for the last 20 years. I’m sure anyone with hair would see how amazing you are if they were given the chance to get to know you.
Something I’ve learned from raising an autistic child is to take nothing for granted. My son may blither nonsensically much of the time, but I’m so grateful he has language, and that occasionally he can use words to tell me what he needs or even how he feels. I’m grateful that he is healthy and generally happy.
Mostly, I’m grateful my son feels free to wave his freak flag. I don’t know if he’s aware yet that he is profoundly different from most of the kids in his middle school, but at this point, he acts like his true self (I’m pretty sure he’s a blender) no matter where he goes and doesn’t appear to notice if some toasters give him the side eye. His typical classmates have come to know him for the lovable, silly, clever kid he is. I worry that someday he will become self-conscious, that he will feel pressured to act more like a toaster, but for now, he is unapologetically himself in a way I wish I, and everyone, could be.
I hope that you achieve that same sense of freedom he must feel, proud of yourself and all you are capable of doing. I hope you build a community of friends who recognize how special you are, and how much you have to offer the world. I hope you always find the courage to advocate for yourself. And I hope that your can look for and appreciate the goodness in others, no matter what the gears and wires in their heads produce, just as I hope they will see the goodness within you.