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Just Be Yourself

  • Posted on January 7, 2011 at 10:56 AM

I remember hearing those words a lot as a child.  “Just be yourself.”  I would hear those words when we moved and I had to make new friends.  I heard those words again when I started taking interest in boys that went beyond simple playmates.  I heard those words yet again when I wanted to learn the “right” way to write.  “Just be yourself.”

When it comes to raising my own kids, it seems our society finds those words to be out of place.  At Planet Outreach-ASD, Jean wrote:

It shouldn’t even occur to me to want to change his behaviour just because it makes me uncomfortable, and because I want him to be more like other kids.

It’s actually deeply disrespectful of who he is.

I agree with Jean that it’s deeply disrespectful to ask our children with autism to change simply to conform to society’s expectations.  Yet that is the overwhelming message:  change, conform, catch up.

Further reflection makes me wonder:  Is there anyone who is allowed to just be themselves? 

I know as a child, there were many ways I was forced to conform.  There were other ways I refused to conform.  There were still other ways I could not conform.  This hasn’t changed since I’ve become an adult.  And it’s more than my own version of atypicality. 

My step-son, who is a typically developing teen, faces enormous pressure to conform.  He expects criticism, yet he still doesn’t understand that criticism.  He wants to rebel against standards, but is bothered when people look at him more than they look at others.

“Just be yourself.”  It’s something we say, but how often do we really mean it?  How many people really, truly extend that courtesy to others?

If we really believed in that trite little saying, would so many in our society see autism as something so dangerous?  If we, as a society, believed in allowing people to just be themselves, would we fear the diversity that abounds?

Just by yourself.  And let others do the same.

How much would change for the better if we all did?

School Spirit

  • Posted on September 24, 2009 at 3:52 AM

At first, it seemed trivial.  Over the course of the last several years, I have gotten notes from school requesting my child wear a specific set of clothing to demonstrate school spirit.  While it was somewhat inconvenient, I really didn’t think there were any significant ramifications.  Then, this year, my youngest son was asked to wear clothing of a specific color to assist him and his fellow kindergarteners to learn their colors.

Coinciding with this, I was also exploring the ramifications of our desires for acceptance.  We all want to feel accepted and loved for who we are; but, because this doesn’t always happen, many of us sacrifice aspects of ourselves in an attempt to gain that acceptance.  In some ways, this does have positive benefits.  Activities deemed illegal or immoral by the society in which we live are reduced by our desires for acceptance.  However, sometimes the activities deemed illegal or immoral are based on unfounded prejudice.  Furthermore, sometimes we do things that we deem illegal or immoral to gain this acceptance.  The drive to be someone acceptable may have serious, long-lasting, and destructive consequences.

School children can be very cruel to one another, as I know from personal experience.  There’s often a pecking order and significant pressure to conform to the students’ standards, regardless of whether those standards are based on ethical conducted.  It occurred to me as my thoughts and this particular experience aligned that perhaps we should not reinforce children’s tendency to judge each other by their clothing by making clothing part of school spirit or learning exercises.

While school spirit does have some benefits, it should not be fostered at the expense of children who cannot or do not choose to participate.  Perhaps instead of actively reinforcing the tendency to sort people based on their clothing and judging their worth based on the category they best fit, we should teach our children that school spirit and other “group memberships” should be based on personal merit and genuine worth, not external attributes.  Then again, concepts like school spirit and “group membership” are often interpreted as vehicles of conformity.  Perhaps school spirit isn’t something we should foster at all.