While we were on vacation last week in Alabama, we took a boat ride. It was a three hour tour (but the weather never got rough, and the tiny boat was not tossed). But there was a woman on the boat that very clearly had autism.
She was older, my guess is in her twenties, maybe late twenties.
And she seemed, to all outward appearances, to be happy.
She rocked, although, to be fair, we all rocked since we were on a boat. She stimmed. She used sign language to communicate, and she seemed to argue with one of the people with her – her father, maybe? – who kept getting frustrated. She was signing something I couldn’t quite figure out (she was superfast as it), but I saw her saying something about little, and he kept saying something big. No idea what it was. But he got frustrated with her because she wouldn’t give.
Otherwise, she sat there, beaming happy. Her hair was blonde; her eyes were blue. She wore a charm bracelet that included all types of charm, including an autism puzzle charm.
And it gave me hope. Hope that in another 10 years, when Simon would be about the same age I’d guessed her to be, he’d be able to communicate that well, argue rationally, stimming in public without judgment.
As it was, Simon filled the boat ride with lots of “tv talk” (a lot of Elmo, for some reason), and paced up and down, back and forth, touching everything he could safely touch, his sea legs fully under him, looking like he barely needed to make any adjustments because of all the rocking and rolling the boat was doing in the waves.
I wanted to talk to the woman and her family, ask questions, know their story.
But that’s not my right. It’s their story, and it’s their life, and I wouldn’t normally go up and talk to random strangers, but, at the same time, I’d love to have random strangers come up to me and ask me about Simon because I’d love to educate them about him and about us and try to show them that autism isn’t some unsurmountable evil, and that as long as we can handle its side effects (anxiety, aggression, lack of communication), then there’s no reason to do anything else. As long as Simon can function and be happy, who are any of us to judge that he needs a “cure”? that he needs to change to fit in? That he has to enjoy things in a certain way? That there’s a right way and a wrong way to live and be happy?
Acceptance can go a long way, and seeing other people being accepting, being happy, being out there – it tells me that acceptance is happening.