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  • Kristy Forbes

Our Autistic Imprint

Updated: Feb 25


In his original 1943 paper entitled "Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact", Leo Kanner observed that autistic children had a tendency to change and often improve in their connection and engagement with others and their environment by age 6, irrespective of whether they received any form of therapy or intervention. . But nobody talks about or acknowledges this. . We get in there and we frantically work to normalise autistic children. . We do this for many reasons. . We fear our children will suffer-that they will not be accepted by society; bullied, rejected, isolated, ostracised. So our focus during our autistic children’s childhoods is always about making them at least APPEAR as neurotypical as possible. . Sometimes this is brutally obvious in therapies, and sometimes it isn’t. . What we think is ‘normal’ and acceptable in terms of how to proceed in therapy with autistic children is somewhat thwarted by our limited understanding of autism itself. . We place extreme importance and value on physical presentation. . We overlook the fact that many autistics internalise their autism; their anxiety, depression, their deep thinking and feeling, diverse cognitive processing. Many autistic characteristics are..invisible. . Therefore, completely missed. And when an autistic person presents, even with a diagnosis, there is an expectation of them to present, to behave, to appear neurotypical/non autistic. . We strive for eye contact, scripted greetings and conversational points, sharing minimal information on areas of interest and curbing and minimising emotional responses. . We prioritise minimising, condensing, packaging, shutting down, conforming and normalising aspects of autism that make non autistics uncomfortable, the parts that are misunderstood, not understood and lack solutions or remedies. . In turn, we pass on a very clear message to our autistic children that there are parts of them that are not okay. . Damage done. . The first five years of a child’s life are the most imperative in instilling and developing a sense of self and connection with others. . Unless there is a diagnosis of autism. . In that case, families are presented with a sense of urgency, a small ‘window of opportunity’ to intervene. . It isn’t bad or awful or wrong to want our children to be accepted. In fact, it’s often a matter of being tuned into what our society promotes and values and feeling we must instill those values in our youth. . As humans, we long to be accepted and understood. . But what we overlook is that the most crucial acceptance and understanding is that which we have for and of ourselves. . This begins the basis of all relationships. . Our sense of self. . In “Nanette”, Hannah Gadsby, an autistic and gay comedian shares an intimate conversation with her Mother where her Mother recalls her grief and regret in how she had responded earlier in life to her daughter's (Hannah’s) difference. . "The thing I regret is that I raised you as if you were straight. I didn’t know any different, I am so sorry. I am SO SORRY. I knew well before you did, that your life was going to be SO hard. I knew that and I wanted it more than anything in the world not to be the case. And 'I' made it worse. I made it worse because I wanted you to change because I knew the world wouldn’t". . A moving and common experience shared by many parents relating the same thinking to their child's difference, as I once did. . As a society, we are still striving to change our children because it appears too difficult for the world to change in it's understanding of difference/diversity. . But we must try. It must begin with us. . We cannot expect courage of our children where it lacks in us. . Who are we, to say that a human being’s imprint on this world does not have the potential to be transformational? . We humans, with our limited life experience, with our limited capacity to understand, embody and embrace what others have to offer.. .

What about evolution? . What about contribution? . What about revolution? . Change is needed. . Acceptance. Acceptance. Acceptance. . You know what’s worse than any kind of rejection, abandonment or social ostracisation? . Self rejection. Self hatred. Self abandonment. . These are the seeds that sprout the challenges derivative of autistic trauma; the best coping mechanisms our autistic brains and bodies can develop to regulate, to find equilibrium.. . Self harm, eating disorders, extreme relentless anxiety, rage, OCD, addiction, disconnection, isolation, autoimmune disease, depression. . These are the autistic challenges listed as 'characteristics', yet they're our symptoms of rejection, non acceptance, expectation of compliance from others. . Every human being has something valuable to contribute. . Every human being. . Even those who commit atrocities. Their actions can bring people together. Change perspectives. Change communities. Call for reconsideration. . Who might we be if given the space and freedom to be? . Is therapy wrong? No. . But we must work toward actualisation, not normalisation. . And it must begin with us. .


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