To the autistic child,
Hi! I see you. My name is Nora and I’m an autistic adult. We’re pretty awesome, if I do say so myself. It isn’t easy being autistic, and I wish there are some things that I had been told. That’s why, little one, I’m writing this letter to you. You may not know me, but maybe someday we’ll get to meet each other. Maybe we never will and we’ll only talk on the internet. Either way, you’re loved and so very amazing. Your brain is so COOL! Isn’t it nifty how different people are? Isn’t it nifty how different brains can be?
I don’t want to sugar coat things. Sometimes it’s hard being autistic. You know all those bright lights and loud noises? Yeah, sometimes I want to melt down, too. And sometimes I do. My brain just gets all these signals from different directions all at once and cannot tolerate it. And you know what? It’s okay. It hurts, and it’s okay to let people know we’re hurting. People may get annoyed or frustrated when we melt down, but we simply don’t have the words to articulate what’s going on inside our heads. And you know what? That’s okay. It isn’t our fault that sometimes we’re overwhelmed.
Sometimes, you know those little movements we make? We flap our hands, we rock back and forth, we spin around. We fiddle with toys in our hands or we wear special bracelets or necklaces. Sometimes we chew our shirt collars. Sometimes we make certain sounds. This is called “stimming”. Sometimes it calms us down, and sometimes it makes us feel good. You know what? It’s okay. It helps settle us down in a big, scary world. If it doesn’t hurt someone else, it’s okay for us to do it. Part of taking care of ourselves is doing things that helps us cope, and so that’s why we stim.
Sometimes we find a topic we like and just want to talk about it a lot. Our brains are like soil – the little info seeds take root and grow into various things we just love to talk about. Some people call them “special interests”, others call them “obsessions”. I just like calling them “interests”. Sometimes we just kind of info dump on them, which means just blurting out everything we know about the subject. This is okay! It’s part of what makes our brains special.
Maybe you have trouble doing, what many call, “using your words”. I don’t like that phrase. Words are hard. Not everyone can talk with their vocal cords, and that’s okay! Some people use sign language, which means they talk with their hands. Some people use what’s called AAC, which means they use a special device or iPad app to talk. They type the words into it or tap a picture, and it says their words for them. Little one, all forms of communication are valid. It doesn’t matter if you speak it, move it, or tap it – your words MATTER and we (the autistic community and those who love you) want to hear what you have to say.
Sometimes when we talk to people, we use words we’ve said before. Or maybe phrases we know from video games, TV shows, movies, or books. Or maybe phrases we’ve made up that have special meaning. This is called “scripting”. Sometimes, when we’re asked a question we just repeat it back. For example, maybe we’re asked “Do you want milk or juice?” We might just say “or juice”. This is called “echolalia”. Sometimes people got frustrated that we don’t seem to understand what they’re saying. But most of the time, we do. We just are communicating in the best way we can. But when people can learn our scripts, we can adapt and learn to communicate with them in a way that’s accessible to everyone.
People WILL sometimes talk about you right in front of you. People WILL sometimes say you don’t understand what they’re saying about you, because you’re autistic. People who say they love you may say mean things about you in front of you. People may record your most vulnerable moments, and place them on the internet for the world to see, claiming to raise awareness for you. They’ll claim you don’t understand. I know you understand. You may not look like you’re paying attention, but in your own way you are taking in the world around you. But even if you feel like no one else understands you and no one else loves you, know there’s one person who has never met you who would move the world for you, if she could. Know there is one loyal, passionate person who is fighting for your rights as an autistic child.
Precious child, you are fine as you are. You don’t have to change to fit in. You don’t have to be not YOU in order to be loved and accepted. Some people are autistic. Some people are not. You’re autistic. It’s okay to say no, even in a world that teaches you to say yes and obey every order. It’s okay to let people know you’re in pain. It’s okay to stim. The world wasn’t built for autistic people, and we have to learn to live in it in whatever way we can. Sometimes, people don’t understand our ways but that’s okay, because we don’t understand their non autistic ways!
I hope that one day you find acceptance, and not awareness.