As I shared in a previous post, I have a magnet on my fridge that reads, “Who says I want to fit in?” For me this message serves a function on a number of levels. It reminds me of strategies that I use to check and keep my view-point and self-talk on a positive track.
I am a little bit of an unusual thinker myself – sort of an eclectic, pragmatist with tendencies toward lateral and metaphorical connectivity. I love to joke: I have a quick wit, I am addicted to irony, and I am, at times, irreverent. On top of this I am usually cheerful… likely annoyingly so to some people. Sometimes, I don’t fit in! It can feel a bit awkward – because I do have the social intuition to perceive this.
That is when the message about fitting in becomes important to me. I could fit in better, but to do so I would have to sacrifice being what my sister calls weird, or what I prefer to think of as kinda quirky.
I remember kids in my primary classes – before I became a Special Ed Teacher – saying, “Ms. Kelley… You’re weird!” I always responded with “Thank you, I will take that as a compliment. I don’t want to be like everyone else,” and the child usually smiled and became engaged in whatever it was we were talking about or exploring.
Invariably there comes a time when I don’t fit in, and when I am feeling uncomfortable with this – I try to remind myself that it is the qualities I like about myself that make it so. I remind myself that fitting in (at times) would mean a sacrifice that I am unprepared to make. It is our differences that make us interesting. I think of my friends and family, and I am closest to those who are a bit different from everyone else. That is what appeals to me, and I suspect I am not alone in this.
Who says I want to fit in? has another layer of meaning as well. As quirky as I may be (yes – even in my house), I am fairly certain that I am non Autistic, and in being so, I must be ultra aware of the expectations I put on H. I want him to gain social cognitive strategies so that he can find success in the social realm, but here is where it gets tricky: I have to be aware that my perspective of what is important – may not have the same significance or importance to H.
Now this is very interesting – isn’t it! Suddenly the shoe is on the other foot – and we need to consider that it may be the non Autistics who have some kind of Theory of Mind issue when it comes to social expectations.
As non Autistics, are we moving through our lives with a narrow picture of what it means to be social and what it means to fit in?? Perhaps there are occasions when we (non Autistics) are the ones that could consider broadening our ability to take the perspective of another. (This statement is rhetorical of course; there are many times when non Autistic people could/should be the ones who work to broaden their perspective taking skills and work to gain a greater understanding of those on the Autism spectrum.)
We also want to be careful not to impose our ideal upon our guys on the spectrum. I mean – what is your reality? Most of us have just a handful of people that we are really close to… maybe one or two really good friends – and the rest are acquaintances. Over time, the make up of those close to us can shift and change as well – sometimes people just drift out of our lives. We need to make sure that we do not give our kids with autism/Autistic kids the false impression that we have hundreds of friends – because in reality – most of us do not.
I don’t want to be so focused on the idea of my child gaining the skills and strategies of social cognition so that he approximates typical, and then loses something of himself. There is a delicate balance here. I want him to find his way in the world of social so that he can be successful, and at the same time, my kid does not fit into the box – he is not typical. Both Craig and I are out of the box thinkers, and in a way H is just an extension of this… and then a little more – because he does not naturally or intuitively perceive that a box even exists.
There is also the complicating factor that I am able to sense the judgment and the unspoken fitting-in-pressure in the stares of onlookers. I must take the responsibility that I am the mitigator of this pressure. My child – thank heavens – is mostly oblivious to the judgment of strangers – but unfortunately (and fortunately too) not the judgment of his mom.
It is so easy to be sucked into the narcissistic wanting-my-child-to-be-typical mode. This is insidious in its ability to sneak up and catch me unaware. The pressure put upon us to fit in socially can be strong indeed.
It may sound contradictory that I have these feelings, when I have also stated sentiments like “if I could pluck the autism our of my child I wouldn’t.” It is contradictory: I have both of these feelings and they certainly do not align.
What I hope to establish is a balance and an awareness so that my needs do not colour the needs of my child. It is a sticky messy thing – but I am trying to make my way…
Lots of angles to consider here, so many perspectives… And clearly I don’t have the answers… which has me considering that the questions themselves may be the important thing…
30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.
© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism, (2011)