As a clinician, I am aware that the larger discussion on autism is often “How do we reduce the symptoms of autism?” While I recognize that support is needed and many autistics experience real challenges in life where support is welcomed, both for themselves and their families. However, as a clinician I also recognize that everyone sitting on my couch is seeking the same thing, support for a personal struggle that feels bigger than they can handle on their own.
Be the diagnosis depression, anxiety, PTSD, or conflict in relationships, my first line of support in helping the person sitting across from me is to talk about what isn’t working, as well as what is. And please know, I am not unique in this approach to my clinical work. It’s safe to say that the vast majority of my colleagues approach their clients in the same humanistic fashion. Yet, there seems to be a marked divergence in the world of autism treatment. It seems that the discussion and approach to autism treatment is hyperfocused on what needs to change and rarely is there discussion about what to value, what to appreciate, what to keep.
Here is another truth that I know to be universal. If you want someone to understand your perspective on anything, you need to first acknowledge theirs. The ability to hear someone else's truth only comes when the person first feels heard and understood themselves. Only then is there a willingness to make space for an alternative perspective. For autistics, we need to do this better. We need to acknowledge the values of the autistic identity.
Having autism means that it’s part of your identity. In the lovely words of one of this years speakers: “If you were to take away autism, you’re taking away the person you’re talking to. It’s how you process information. It’s how you communicate. It’s how you sense the world. It affects your movement. I don’t know who I’d be if I did not have autism. I wouldn’t be me.” - Melanie Yergeau
How do you support the development of healthy self-esteem and confidence for autistics if you don’t see that a fundamental part of them has value? The answer is, you don’t. You’ll miss them and they will miss you. It’s human nature.
So here are just three ways to get you started:
The courage to be authentically YOU. Neurotypicals are hyper focused on social norms and the potential judgment of every action, in every situation, every day. It’s emotionally exhausting. Why? Because we are sometimes so focused on the the opinions of others, even if it’s to the detriment of ourselves. Imagine the freedom that can come with the ability to ignore this. To consider your own opinions about what you want for your life as being the most important for how you live.
The ability to see things differently. How we see something shapes how we think. When we see the same thing everyone else does, the potential to think the way everyone else does exists. Anthropologist call it groupthink. Ask anyone shaping the world and moving the human race forward, seeing what everyone else does isn’t helpful. The true value is in seeing it differently. It’s the alternative perspective where innovation and creativity flourish.
The willingness to speak your truth. Many would be say that this is the same as living authentically. It isn’t.There is a huge gap between living true to yourself, and speaking your truth. It takes bravery and courage to challenge the status quo. Each year we have autistic self-advocates who are living examples of what it means to speak your truth. And they have the courage to do so in a world that is pushing an alternate and many times, limiting narrative of who they should be.
Dr. Jenny Palmiotto