My name is Ben Springer and I wanted to drop you a note, to tell you why I’m grateful for you.
We first met in a textbook. You were surrounded by a lot of medical-sounding words that made you feel like something broken.
The second time I met you, was in the face of a preschooler. You were energetic, loving, and enjoyed being silly. I remember you being transfixed on the motion of objects. We were able to spend a lot of time together. You were nothing like when I found you in a textbook.
Years later, I got trained on how to find you. There were these instruments and protocols that were at once fascinating and kinda complicated. The more time I spent with these instruments and protocols, the more different you became. Sometimes I could find you, and other times I thought I found you, but I was wrong.
Every year since, I’ve spent a lot of time with families affected by you. You have scared them at times, made them very sad at times, but most of the time, you were just being you. You helped families learn how to experience the world at a different pace, in a different way. I’ve seen you bring peace and I’ve seen you bring chaos to families.
In a lot of ways, you are just like the weather with families: A series of basic forms, but rarely predictable. However, when you shine like the sun, the warmth is exquisite.
In addition to my time spent with families affected by you, I’ve met with you personally quite a bit. You have a lot of stuff that can come with you.
It’s almost like every time I see you, you’re wearing a different backpack full of stuff like: Anxiety (social, separation), depression (which can lead to aggression), echolalia, sensitivity to changes in your environment. You also carry with you unique methods to interpreting your surroundings. You enjoy certain sounds, feelings, and movements more than most.
You have taught me so much, Autism. So, I have created this list of things you have taught me, for which I am grateful:
- Whether I see you in a child, an adolescent, or an adult you are still a child, an adolescent, or an adult. You thrive and struggle along with everybody else across these life stages.
- You impact families in a very real and very serious way. It’s not necessarily a negative impact, but you kinda influence every single decision families have to make.
- You don’t define individuals. Individuals define you.
- The more awareness and knowledge we have about you is always good. In the past 15 years, I have witnessed the benefits of schools and families getting to know you a bit more.
- You have started to find real voices through individuals like John Elder Robison, Temple Grandin, and even Amy Schumer!
- You are all over the place! I really do see you everywhere nowadays. Billboards, at the playground, at school. I’m starting to think you’ve always been everywhere, but we’re all learning how to find you.
- The years of research and work that have surrounded you has helped me a lot. I look to it quite a bit because every time I think I’ve figured you out, you keep surprising me.
- You share a lot of similarities with others. ADHD reminds me of you in a lot of ways. Dyslexia reminds me of you in a lot of ways. Anxiety and OCD remind me of you in a lot of ways. However, like flowers in a garden, you all grow and look different enough.
- I’ve learned to never “Google” you. It’s just too much to handle. I’ve learned to find folks that know you personally, that work with you in school. You are much more understood in the real-life context we find you.
Finally, I’ve learned to respect you for what you are. I accept you completely into my life and the lives of others. You are real and I see you. I don’t think you’re a code that needs to be cracked. I think you exist in real kids, real individuals and just as we should work to accept all kids and individuals, we should work to accept you as you are.
Anyway, I know you won’t call me, but I know how to find you. Be nice to your mom and eat more vegetables.
Your Pal, Ben