I am in love with this phrase: The beautiful otherness of the Autistic mind.

I was impacted powerfully when I read it — not only did it reflect the deep feelings I have for my son and the way his mind was made, it also demonstrated a wise understanding of all that is Autism.

It was the kind of description one might use for Van Gogh, Shakespeare, or DaVinci.

To me, it is a respectful phrase, capturing what is amazing and different about Autism. It captures what is amazing about the different in Autism.

Respect is described as “a positive feeling of esteem or deference for a person or other entity, and also specific actions and conduct representative of that esteem.”

This means that in order to feel respect for someone on the Autism spectrum, there must first be a positive feeling about someone on the Autism spectrum.

Positive feelings come from being aware of Autism and how it comes in a million shapes and sizes; they come from understanding Autism, what it looks like and how it can change from moment to moment, day to day; and they come from accepting Autism as an integral part of the person on the spectrum.

Deference is recognizing that a person on the spectrum is the final expert on they are thinking and feeling. As a parent it is my responsibility to teach and guide the Navigator in learning the tools and strategies he needs to achieve what he wants in life. But only he can tell me what works best for him.

What do “respectful actions” and “conducting oneself representing that esteem” look like?

Some say good manners are a sign of respect. I love the line from the movie Blast from the Past where one of the characters describes good manners as

“… just a way of showing other people we have respect for them. See, I didn’t know that, I thought it was just a way of acting all superior. Oh and you know what else he told me?…I know, I mean I thought a “gentleman” was somebody that owned horses. But it turns out, his short and simple definition of a lady or a gentleman is, someone who always tries to make sure the people around him or her are as comfortable as possible.”

(Emphasis added.) Good manners and making someone on the Autism spectrum feel as comfortable as possible might include:

Not stereotyping anyone — when you’ve met one person with Autism you’ve met one person with Autism. Don’t make any assumptions that you really know what is going on.

Think before speaking — yes, parents and people on the spectrum have probably already tried the idea that just came into your head. Instead of offering suggestions, ask about lessons learned and successful strategies and tools.

Always making sure people on the spectrum and their care givers are at the table in any Autism-related decision-making of any kind. In the foster care world, foster youth say “nothing about us without us” and I have seen that phrase also used in the Autism community. Live it.

Once you truly see the beautiful otherness of the Autistic mind, you can’t help but respect it.

The two articles using this wonderful phrase which inspired this article were Understanding Autism: How Life On The Spectrum Fosters Brilliance And Limitations by Leah Bushak published in February 2015 by Medical Daily, and The beautiful otherness of the autistic mindby Francesca Happé and Uta Frith, published in April 2009 by the Royal Society Publishing.

Originally published on Autism Mom April 2015.

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