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The Personality of the Matter

  • Posted on September 10, 2011 at 8:23 PM

It seems all three boys are transitioning back to school nicely. Aside from a coughing spell that lost Alex a day of school, there have been no major incidents, no reported minor incidents of the negative kind, and a lot of “wows!” Then, of course, Ben got his bearings and started being his own stubborn little self. The honeymoon is over—let the trouble begin! And that’s my Ben for you.

It’s been said many times, but: If you know one person with autism, then you know ONE person with autism. What’s left out of that quite often is the apparent differences don’t necessarily have anything to do with autism. People have personalities. Autistic people have personalities, too. And, sometimes those personalities are “problems” in and of themselves.

Not that I’m saying Ben is a problem, or that his personality is. But, if you interact with Willy or Alex, and then interact with Ben—well, autism isn’t the all of it. They’re different people: wholly and completely different people from the nature and “severity” of their autism to their coping mechanisms, from their interests to their strongest personal characteristics.

Ben tests boundaries. Sure, Alex and Willy do too, but Ben does so with a mixture of passion, determination, resourcefulness, and resilience that continues to amaze and astound. This has nothing to do with his autism, but is part of his personality. It’s part of who he is; the ways it manifests are influenced by autistic traits, but this nature is inherent in all that is Ben.

I’ve been reading a lot of newsy stuff and I can’t help but feel jaded. There’s still an overwhelming amount of “autism is bad” out there. People go into details about what autism takes away and it’s frustrating to read. It’s like they’re so busy looking for what’s not there, they don’t see what is: a person, a unique person who is doing the best he or she can to exist in a world that wasn’t made with his or her needs in mind. Parents seem so flummoxed that they didn’t get their mini-me, they’re lost when it comes to seeing, being aware of the person their child really is.

I don’t get it. I don’t understand. Why do parents get so stuck on having the child they want—something they have no control over, something that few parents ever really get—that they miss out on the child they have? This isn’t really an autism thing, either. Some parents want their children to grow up to be doctors, but the children would rather be artists. Some parents want their children to marry and have babies, but the children are perpetual bachelors or bachelorettes or—gasp!—they may even be gay. Why is it that so many parents try to force their children—unique people who are very much themselves—into some kind of mold that doesn’t really fit? Whether it’s driving your child crazy with your lust for vicarious football glory or trying to make your autistic child normal, how do they justify it?

Is it really so hard to respect the little people in your care?