To be heard and an attempt at understanding can be enough

Paul Reed

By Paul Reed

From a quote on The Art of Autism quote page, Dani Bowman says “English is my 2nd language. Autism is my first.” This beautifully illustrates that contrast between how a neurotypical (that is, one who does not have Autism) thinks, acts, and sees the world, and how someone with Autism does. Our world is completely, totally, and utterly different.

Think of it like this. You are standing on a mountain top, viewing a beautiful landscape rich with luscious rolling grass, forests, lakes, and in the distance you see stunning snow-capped mountains. You gather your friends around you and they see the same thing. You can all enjoy this wondrous sight together, all sharing a singular set of emotions; awe, wonderment, and appreciation. Except you have a friend who has autism. He comes along and he sees the railing that is in front of you. He sees the railing and nothing else. “Why is this railing here?” He asks himself. “Did someone once fall off? How did it get here? How long did it take to create? Why did they choose this colour?” Despite the blatantly obvious view set out before him, the Autistic person doesn’t see it. He sees only the railing. He becomes lost in this world and simply cannot see outside of it. “Why aren’t you looking at the amazing view? We are all enjoying it.” His friends say. But this view presents no interest to him. He’s only interested in the railing. Now apply that situation to many scenarios in life, and you may begin to understand the way an Autistic mind differs from that of a neurotypical.

This cacophony of thoughts, inside an Autistic mind, is one of the primary reasons we find integration into societal norms so difficult. It’s why socializing, interacting with fellow humans, and communicating our feelings can feel almost impossible at times. Albert Einstein once said that, “understanding of our fellow human beings… becomes fruitful only when it is sustained by sympathetic feelings in joy and sorrow.” Being able to sympathize with someone who makes no sense to you at all is no mean feat, and it is why all supportive partners and families of Autistics deserve the highest praise indeed. Oft’ they will accept that understanding is simply not possible, but to be heard and an attempt to understand can most times be enough for us.

When I was 7, I had a teacher named Miss Clark. She is the only teacher who’s name I remember from school. School was a traumatic part of my life. Treacherous in fact. Those years of my life were deeply entrenched in sadness, anxiety, isolation and loneliness. I had no school friends, and in fact could not tell you a single persons name from School. But I remember Miss Clark for what I now realize, nearly 30 years on, to have been an empathy for the way I felt.

I remember one particular day the whole class was engaging in an activity involving maker paper-mâché balloons. This involved dipping ones fingers into glue. I felt physically sick at the idea of doing this. Any other teacher, this being the relatively ignorant 80’s on the subject of mental health, would no doubt berate me for being a silly little boy. Miss Clark however sensed my fear of the sticky hands, and she offered to dip my paper for me. I will never forget that one small act because it meant the absolute world to me. No belittlement, no expecting me to fit in with what she considered normal, but an understanding that I was different, and an offer to embrace this and help me accomplish my goal. I still remember things like this with great fondness and it warms my heart to know she, even back then, opened her mind and offered a degree of understanding of how my mind worked.

Life can be tough when you’re bombarded with an overload of the mind; trying to make sense of what can often be a chaotic thought process. But people like Miss Clark, I hope, were trendsetters, and the children of today have before them a much less traumatic and much more understood future.

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My name is Paul and I’m a filmmaker and blog writer. My blog aims to help families and partners of those with Autism to better understand how their loved one feels and sees the world around them.

This was originally posted as I’m sorry I have autism on Paul’s blog

2 Comments

  • I pray I was one of those teachers. I have been teaching for 35 years with students with all types of abilities. I learn from my students every day. I hope they remember me fondly. In addition I hope a shared enough with other teachers along the way, to have them show compassion.

    • Just knowing that this is something you need to make an effort with is enough. It’s teachers who don’t care that fail to leave an impression on their students. I’m sure you do a brilliant job!

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