I didn’t have a great family life but I was blessed with a grandfather that was an incredible man. He felt like he had to make up for what my parents lacked. He was my hero in every way. When I was thirty-two I was diagnosed as a man on the autism spectrum. I found myself thinking about my grandfather and what he might have said if he’d been alive to learn that I am on the autism spectrum.
In truth I strongly suspect that my grandfather was also on the autism spectrum, he had all the signs. He was always taking interest in learning new things. He had the same daily routine that he almost never deviated from. He was so good with logistics that he was never late, in fact he arrived on the exact minute he was scheduled to arrive every time, without fail. He was known to speak frankly, at times so much that it was to a fault, and he was shockingly intelligent.
My grandfather had a mantra, something of a family credo. When I was young and struggling with things like school or friends or even just understanding the world around me my grandfather would often say,
“Everything in moderation my son. Balance is key.”
So what might my grandfather have said to me if he’d have learned of my autism status? I know the answer because I knew the man well. He was my hero.
He would have reminded me that everything in life exists with a counter point. He’d have told me that every blessing comes with drawbacks and every curse comes with some potential benefit when viewed with a different set of eyes. He would have told me that every thing in life is about balance,
“Everything in moderation my son. Everything in moderation.”
There are many difficulties that people with autism face. Some of us are hypersensitive and some of us are hyposensitive and all of us have varying degrees of tolerance or enjoyment in the five different senses that inform our experiences in the world around us. My anger as a young man seemed like a curse until my grandfather taught me that anger applied properly provides motivation and drive. My hyposensitivity gifted me with an unusually high threshold for pain. I thought that was blessing at first, until I learned that the same hyposensitivity makes it difficult for me to clearly feel emotions. My grandfather would have pointed out that having difficulty knowing how I feel about something would force me to become for introspective and contemplative, something he would have considered a blessing in a world full of impetuous people.
Often people on the autism spectrum are made to feel that they are difficult. Often those of us on the autism spectrum see our condition as a curse. When we get fired from a job because we spoke too directly with a supervisor we feel frustrated and cursed. When we loose friends because they took offense that we would never have intended we feel rejected, alone and cursed. The noise in public spaces can feel daunting and overwhelm us.
In times like those I think of my grandfather. If you are on the autism spectrum like me and you had the fortune of at least one person in your life that you had a special connection with you can sometimes lean on the memory of someone you loved. Not all of us are so fortunate. However everyone can help someone in need with just a little bit of encouragement, just like my grandfather would have offered.
If someone you care about decries their social challenges, try to help them find the potential positive that is attached to what they perceive as negative. If they say, “why can’t I be more aware of someone being upset with me?” maybe pointing out that you value their honesty might help them to see the potential positive to a challenge. Honesty is highly desirable in professions like policing, research, sports federations, officiating, key public service positions, journalism and writing and more.
If someone you care about decries their sensitivity, maybe remind them that their sensitivity is likely what makes them good at supporting people. Sympathy is prized in psychotherapy, trauma response, human resources, coaching and teaching, arts and creativity and more.
If someone you care about decries their autism status, maybe remind them that divergence in social norms and thinking are the driving force behind paradigm shifts in culture and history. People like Einstein, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Labron James, Anthony Hopkins and Leonardo Da Vinci changed the course of history and changed social and cultural norms precisely because they are people with autism and they thought and acted differently.
In fact, why not start now. Leave comments on social media or websites where you see an opportunity to share a different and positive point of view, any opportunity to shift perspectives for someone that is struggling doesn’t just show support to that person, it shows support for the autism spectrum.
Support autism, think differently and embrace difference. Remember that every blessing has a counter point. Like my grandfather so often told me, life is about moderation and balance is the way of life. Every curse has a potential benefit when viewed with a different set of eyes.
Celebrate autism by celebrating differences and the balance of every blessing and curse. My grandfather would, I do and my daughter hopefully will one day as well.
Love those around you for their blessings and their challenges and you will become someone’s hero.
I miss you Grandpa.