I was diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum about 20 years ago. Of course I was only a small child then but I did not know the impact that it would have on my life or the significant changes it would bring. Now, fast forward 20 years later and here I am working as a counselor helping children and adolescents navigate through life. I often think back on how I ended up here and how my diagnosis can help me in my profession. The irony of being a therapist who was diagnosed on the spectrum surprises me to no end. Often times I feel like I do not belong in this profession because I don’t fit the mold of a therapist. For one, people on the spectrum lack the social, communicational and emotional skills to interact with people in general. Yet, my profession is all about not only having social, communicational, and emotional skills but to develop them for our clients in the healthiest way possible. Yet, somehow I do my job to the best of my ability, despite feeling out of place.
When I look back on my childhood, I recall always feeling out of place. I didn’t belong or my inability to connect with others in a deep and intimate level. The struggle to find an authentic connection with anyone was what I wanted more than anything in the world. And no matter how I hard I tried it seemed to never happen. Even now these same feelings come back from time to time. I struggle to find ways to connect with family, friends, colleagues, and peers but I strive to make sense of this world. Have I gotten better at it? That is hard to say and it definitely is still just as hard as when I was growing up. Yet, I am just as hungry as ever for the connection I want out of my life. But I have made progress and I want to continue to make progress.
To anyone who has a child who is on the spectrum, let me tell you this, your child is more human, and more complex than you can imagine. Yes, those who are on the Autistic Spectrum struggle with conversations, making decent connections, and establishing relationships but we are so human. The road to becoming a master in social skills is hard, and I truly believe that the label never disappears but your child wants growth, connection, and empowerment.
To us, normal is just another word with little value in our lives. Normal is just a word that tends to eat away at anything meaningful or different in life. Normal is boring, average, and tasteless. Being different empowers us, makes significant strides for change, and finding our own place in the world. Being different means being human. And in our quest to find our place in the world, that is how we shed our humanity.
Parents of children who are on the spectrum I encourage you to celebrate your child’s uniqueness, not defy it. Relish in the fact that they aren’t bound by the rules to be “normal” because you never know they might end up finding their place in the world where anyone least expects it. From Temple Grandin to myself we always find our way, so empower us don’t hold us back.
Written by Jasper Gates, M.A., LPC Intern: Supervised by Amy Rollo, M.A., LSSP, LPC-S