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What is the autism superpower in your family?
A diagnosis of autism can turn your family inside out and upside down. It can be incredibly difficult to focus on the positive as you navigate accessing services, insurance headaches, and your first IEP meeting. But chances are your autistic family member has an autism superpower – or maybe even more than one. And channeling that superpower is key toward a brighter outlook and a pathway forward.
The ability to repeat an action for an extended period of time is an autism superpower that is often mentioned by tech companies. For a segment of the autistic population, this is true. The avenue to de-bugging software, pipetting chemicals, or quality control checking is clear and direct. Companies like Specialisterne are supporting autistic individuals in fostering the soft skills that can make these careers viable in the long term.
But not all sensory repetition is so clearly and directly related to career paths. Like tapping. Other stims have come and gone over the years, but this one has just lasted. It appears to be some sort of years-long sensory science experiment – what does this surface sound like/feel like/look like when I tap it? Regardless of the applicability of this “skill” we do acknowledge that the stamina and focus required to “practice” it across so many years – and surfaces – does make it one of Mr. Diggy’s autism superpowers, even in a non-traditional way. We have worked with several music therapists over the years to make the most of this autism superpower.
How did he do that? Where did that come from? Is that running water (or a bottle of chocolate syrup or a spray bottle of oil)? If you had a nickel for every one of these questions we asked in our home, you would be a very wealthy person in a matter of weeks. Tall, wiry, and fast. Nimble, creative, and fearless.
There are few physical boundaries that we can uphold anymore. And to be fair, most serve him well. His heart-stopping plunges to the bottom of our 12-foot-deep pool? Those provide immense sensory input. His climbing on top of the piano to press the top of his head into the ceiling at just the right spot – clearly that is something he is craving. But channeling this autism superpower into meeting IEP goals, and participation in mainstream athletic opportunities is something we are constantly working toward.
His eyebrows speak a million words. I can tell if he is smiling by looking at the back of his head – the entire shape of his face changes. Ninety-three percent of communication is non-verbal, as cited in Psychology Today. Unless your non-verbal child is also entirely non-vocal (which ours is very far from!), this means you have body language (55%) and vocal tone (38%) to help guide you.
And while eyebrows and tone of voice won’t entirely unlock what’s going on in your child’s head, it is somehow less overwhelming to know that your AAC device (or PECS or prompt speech or whatever you are trying) is only trying to fill in the remaining 7%. Value what you can see, and embrace how much you understand from that 93%.
Joy and excitement that reaches new heights. Pain and sorrow that reaches new lows. Autism in our life is like living everything with no filter. There is nothing subtle or nuanced – and there is very little middle ground. If your neurotypical tween or teen, like mine, answers every question with “fine” or “okay” – you know that this age group often thrives in the space of being uncommitted. It is part of navigating the social landscape of most middle and high schools.
Autism brings a refreshingly different perspective to the subject – almost nothing in Mr. Diggy’s world is fine or okay. Enjoy this – and find situations when it is appreciated or useful – like cheering up older relatives, or teaching emotions to younger siblings or cousins.
Autism is often misunderstood. There are communication challenges. There are eye contact challenges. And there is often a desire to get away from other people. But beneath all this lies a capacity for a deep, powerful connection with other humans.
There is a deeper understanding of the care that one provides as being a tool for supporting and loving an autistic individual. It may not be apparent in the sensory overwhelm that is a meltdown, but it’s there. A pure, unadulterated love that is not filtered by age, peer pressure, or other outside factors. And as everyone’s favorite Liverpudlian band crooned in 1967 – “all you need is love.”
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