I’ve been on an adventure in autismland for six months now. Well, seven years, really. But the last six months, we have (finally!) known what path we’ve been traveling. And I have to say I’ve learned some surprising things. Did you know that high-functioning autism gives you superpowers? It’s true! I’d like to start today by debunking some autism myths and then sharing with you some of my son’s superpowers. Although every kid has different talents, there are many things that are similar.
Discipline and Motivation
First, as any mom with a kid with autism will tell you, you can’t discipline autism out of a child. You can’t even discipline a kid with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) the same as you would other children. Some kids are motivated by consequences or punishment… Not an ASD kid. They are motivated by encouragement and positive rewards. Harsh discipline, or corporal punishment, will only make them fear and resent you.
And when a child with ASD decides it’s time to master something, nothing will stand in their way. You can talk till you’re blue in the face about potty training, riding a bike, doing homework, etc. — but nothing is going to force that child to do something they aren’t ready for. I’d say that kind of determination is a superpower for sure.
It’s been a huge growing experience for this Type A mom. I’m used to being the one leading the pack, but I have had to learn to slow down and let my son lead me.
Rainbow of Symptoms
Second, Autism has a rainbow of symptoms. Everyone on Earth has some autistic traits, but you need to collect enough of them before it is considered autism. Some kids are further down the scale one way, and some another. My son has Asperger syndrome, which is sometimes called high-functioning autism.
But even that term makes it sound as though somehow autism is an illness or disease, or that someone with autism is broken. That couldn’t be further from the truth! Autism is a difference, not a defect. Even though those with autism have greater challenges than others, they also have some serious superpowers. Let me explain.
One of my son’s Superpowers is super senses. He smells better than I do, hears things like an eagle, and can taste the difference between two different brands of Apple-wood smoked bacon. He is a super taster. The food industry would LOVE to have this kid help them flavor medicine or vitamins. I’ve found very few that aren’t disgusting to him.
These super senses come in super handy when I’m waiting for a delivery—he always hears the truck when it pulls up outside. And I can see how helpful it would be for him to be able to smell smoke before anyone else, and thus save property damage and lives in the process. The list continues for the positive uses for this superpower. Sadly, it also makes him overwhelmed at times, because, for him, the lights can be too bright and the temperature overwhelming. It’s a double-edged sword.
My son is also a whiz with computers. In this day and age, that’s a huge gift. He is great at computer games and has mastered Minecraft like nobody’s business. He’s only seven, and the game is intended for kids ages 10 and up. But he can type, read, spell, and code on the PC, so he sees no problem playing with the older kids. It’s amazing. As a mom whose phone still has capabilities I haven’t tapped into, I consider his gift with computers to be a superpower.
Most kids are a little skittish around animals… Or, more precisely, animals can be skittish around kids. My friend raises chickens and my son loves them. He has quickly learned how to handle them, to be careful with them, and seems to naturally earn their trust. We had several children sitting in a circle holding baby chicks recently. The other three children had chicks that were chirping at the top of their lungs.
Even the chick in my hand seemed determined to get away. But the one my son held was quiet. It sat there calmly until it fell asleep in his hands. No, it wasn’t sick — it was just so trusting of my boy and his natural abilities with animals. This is superpower number three.
Another autism trait is that they are super honest. They see the world in black and white, right and wrong, more easily than most people. This is a great gift when you’re coming from a Christian perspective. I’ve always wanted my family to have a closer walk with God, and my boy comes by it naturally.
My son wants to know the rules and he wants to follow them. He trusts God so easily and often tells me how grateful he is for things I take for granted. In a world where there are so many shades of grey, I’d call his clear vision of good and evil the superpowers we could all use more of.
I’m really enjoying getting to know my son as an Asperger kid. Thanks to a great ABA therapist, he knows and understands his diagnosis and he is proud of who he is. I’m forever grateful to his amazing therapist who has taught him that there is no shame in his difference. His brain is simply wired differently. She has also helped him see his gifts, and I’ve only listed a few of them here. As he grows older, we will surely keep discovering more.
It’s wonderful to be able to take something many seem to fear these days and turn it on its ear. I mean, how many times have you gotten a quiz that pops up on your Facebook feed challenging you to see if your child has autism? Now I know that it’s not something to be afraid of, and I want the rest of the world to know it too.
Blessings and Challenges
Like everything, autism is a mixed bag of blessings and challenges. But what in life isn’t? My son’s weaknesses are not his fault, and they can be overcome with time and therapy. (I will cover those another time.)
We have had a rough road, and many other families have a far more difficult road to travel than we have. But I am so grateful for the professionals who have guided us on this journey.
I feel like there is a light where there wasn’t before. Learning the positive side of Autism has healed my heart. The world would be boring if we were all the same. And I am grateful to get to take this journey with excellent professionals who show me the positive side of things.
**For those interested in teaching their family and friends about Asperger’s (high-functioning autism), I’d recommend a book called Dude, I’m an Aspie! written by Matt Friedman, a man with Asperger’s who loves to doodle. He took his superpowers and made a book—one for kids and one for adults—to help explain to the rest of us what Asperger’s is. There is even a Kindle version on Amazon. And I don’t get any compensation for telling you about this book.**
This article was originally published on July 19, 2016.
Abby is capable and caring. She is learning more about Autism and parenthood every day. And even though she is the first to admit she makes a lot of mistakes, she is so grateful to be on this journey. She comes from a family with many autistic members. She invites us to join her, as she shares her adventures. She wishes to emphasize that Autism is a difference not a defect. If you or a family member have autism, Abby wants you to know that this isn't a bad thing. And you or your loved one are not sick or broken. Together we will teach the world this new language.