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?