autism

Lessons on being a human. by Julie Anne Caramanico

I work with children.  Many of them have Autism.  These kids teach me a lot about life, compassion, and straight up being a human being.  Every once in a while I meet a child who makes me take a step back and really think, and that happened today.

I like your yellow hair. It looks like spaghetti. And snakes! There are snakes in there. Do you like snakes? Can I touch it?

This funny and endearing, although challenging, child spit out rapid fire questions and barely gave me a chance to answer.  There was nothing in my blonde, curly hair, although it seemed to remind this kid of Medusa.  I'm used to kids calling out any and all personal characteristics, whether I'm comfortable with them or not.  

“No, you can't. Let’s do some work.”  The unpopular response I give when I have a job to do.

NO! (bangs on table)  Can I punch you in the face?? Would that hurt you? Would you be sad? I’m going to push you into the wall! Would you cry?

Did I mention this teenage boy had a good 6 inches and 75 lbs on me?  But I knew he was harmless, just frustrated.  I commiserated that I too, was bored of the work we had to do.  That seemed to win him over just a little.  I asked him questions about animals,  something I knew he liked.   I then showed him the activity and we got some work done.  When he became frustrated, he asked more questions.   Some provocative, some not.  We were getting into a good groove of working together.  Then more questions.  And yelling.  And then he said…

I know, what’s wrong with me, right?  

He stopped talking and moving for a moment and just looked at me.  I heard my words before I could even think about them and said “There is nothing wrong with you.” 

His comment, and my reaction, were one of those moments frozen in time with its simple profundity.  He had heard this before, and likely believed, that something is wrong with him.  He wanted to know if I also judged him, and thought there was something bad about him.  It struck me how this child who from the outside seems very different from me was all of the sudden, not different at all.  A moment ago I was his adversary, making him do boring tasks that he did not want to do or enjoy.  But here we could connect.  It struck me how very human we all are despite our differences.

How many times have you thought that there was something wrong with you?  Maybe you felt judged or inadequate.  Maybe you wanted to yell it at someone too, but you held back, guided by a sense of social propriety.   It could have been a colleague, an acquaintance, or someone you love deeply…and you felt vulnerable.  And seen.  I know, what’s wrong with me, right?  How terribly and utterly human are those words?  Are these kids, with autism, really all that different from you or me?  Is anyone really all that different from anyone else?  This kid, for all his yelling and banging and provoking, had a wounded soul that needed reassurance.  Not unlike the rest of us, and certainly not unlike me.   At a very basic, human level, we are exactly the same.   We want to be seen, heard, accepted, and loved.  Maybe it is more socially acceptable to keep quiet, but probably not as effective.  I did hear him after all, and I believe that he heard me.

I meant it when I said there is nothing wrong with that child.  He is perfectly imperfect.  We all are.  Each of us is beautifully flawed and perfectly whole, regardless of how we pass judgment on ourselves or feel others pass judgment over us.   It’s not always easy to remember, whether you're the judger or the judged.  But sometimes the truest words come without even having to think about it:  there is absolutely nothing wrong with you.  We are all the same.  Beautifully flawed, real and human.  Nothing wrong at all.