Autism and Asperger Articles, Bill Stillman, Award-Winning Author

Demystifying Autism From The Inside Out

See Me

By William Stillman

“I'M NOT RETARDED I'M SMART NOT A MENTAL GIANT BUT I AM INTELLIGENT” These are the words that were communicated to me by a sixteen-year-old young man whom I was visiting in his rural high school classroom on a crisp and wintry January morning. Like most teens his age, he took classes in keyboarding and computers, and was a fluent two-handed typist. But his classroom was anything but typical—it was for kids in Special Ed, and my new friend was autistic and virtually mute, a man of very few words. And yet the words he conveyed upon our first meeting were a gentle plea to belie his physical appearance in favor of presuming an intellect intact.

It was a credo I had heard—or rather read—from countless others before him; those who felt the need to qualify their unconventional mannerisms, vocalizations, and assorted neurological blips, disconnects and misfires by imploring, in essence, “Don’t trust your eyes. This isn’t really me. See past my deceiving exterior, see beyond my label.” And indeed, I always assure them that I see clearly their gorgeous humanity and profound potential.

The desire to simply be welcomed and accepted is universal to all human beings, but there are those among us that struggle in the endeavor for worthiness—to be considered whole and complete and competent. This concept of presuming intellect is not exclusive to people with autism. Upon becoming conscious of it, we may realize that an assumption for incompetence of those with different ways of being surrounds us with glaring reality throughout each day. It shows in the way others publicly avoid the brightly beaming man with Down syndrome; or the adult son who berates his elderly mother compromised with confusion; or the impatience with which people tune out the person who stutters; the small child everyone thinks wants to be tickled, swung through the air, hair tousled; or the individual, who is blind, that truly is capable of ordering her own meal instead of the server deferring to her companions, “And what will she have?”

Not surprisingly, the two most common communications I receive from those with autism, upon our initial meeting, are declarations of the extraordinary patience, tolerance, and forgiveness possessed by so many. The first statement is one of gratitude and selflessness: “I love you.” The second—an affirmation of the human being within: “I’m not retarded.”

In supporting persons on the autism spectrum, let’s look beyond labels, and disregard physical limitations in favor of believing in the competence of each vibrant individual. And remember, we are all more alike than different. Employing this approach will better enable us to see and hear the truth of our collective humanity. Trust and believe, if you dare.

 © 2008, William Stillman

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