Words & Banter

Starting Today. It’s Time To Look At Autism Differently

Photo by mevans on iStock
Most people would agree that Albert Einstein was a genius. And that Elon Musk and Bill Gates are highly intelligent. Many of us have been entertained by Sir Anthony Hopkins, Dan Aykroyd, and director Tim Burton. All of them were either diagnosed or are strongly believed to have been one of many people on the autism spectrum.

And since today marks the beginning of World Autism Acceptance Week, it’s the perfect time to start looking at autism in a new (and more positive) light.

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Did you know that April's Autism Awareness Month? I wasn't aware (pun intended) of it until I read our local homeowner's monthly newsletter and it caught my eye.


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Actually, last month the founding organization, the Autism Society, changed "Awareness" to "Acceptance" to foster inclusivity, as knowing about something is very different from accepting it. But I am guessing that is not the point of this call.


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Although it isn't autism, it reminded me of years ago when we found out that Natasha has learning disabilities.


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I think you mean DIFF-abilities.


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Of course, that's another thing I remember. I was focused on the negative aspects of her diagnosis until you asked me, point-blank, "Why are they called disabilities?" And proceeded to explain that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.


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Exactly! Imagine the world if everyone excelled at math, but flunked English. Or, a world of lawyers, but no musicians. Some people are better at social skills, while others excel at handling technical data. Why not just say that people who have different skillsets and abilities have DIFF-abilities versus making them feel like they have shortcomings?


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I know that you completely changed my way of thinking, not only about Natasha but about the concept of "disabilities" full stop. It opened my eyes – and my brain – about how just because someone has challenges or limited abilities in some areas, that doesn't mean they don't have different gifts and strengths in other areas.


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Exactly. Although autism is a "spectrum condition" meaning it affects people differently and to varying degrees, it is a complex developmental disorder that can affect a person's social skills, and ability to communicate and interact with others. However, autistic people usually possess some extremely valuable traits that are rare in non-autistic people.


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Which is why it frustrates me that so many people feel like those with disabilities, excuse me DIFF-abilities, are "lesser" people. When Natasha was diagnosed, she was in her teens and already had a very strong personality (no doubt inherited from you) and, luckily, seemed to have an innate understanding that she was just different, not better, not worse, than others. I guess one of the biggest challenges is to get others to see things with the same mindset.


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We are a story-telling society, and there are countless stories of people with DIFF-abilities, including those with autism, that are eye-opening and more powerful than anything we could ever say.


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Funny you say that, as I was curious to learn more about autism and found some inspiring quotes (including a wonderful Tom Hanks clip) that not only gave me great insight but made me smile. One of my favorites was how Paul Collins, an author and parent of an autistic child, said, "Autists are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work. It's that you're destroying the peg." That's such a great way to describe not only those with autism but any disability.


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Well, technically, it will fit, but it requires that the diameter of the circle be larger than the diagonal of the square. Basic geometry. But, I understand Paul Collin's point.


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Talk about DIFF-abilities! Couldn't you just agree with me?


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The thought never crossed my mind.

When Red first heard Black talking about the importance of "soft skills," she didn't even know what she was referring to, let alone that they would be important to her life. So, Black explained that it was a term used to describe intangible but essential skills, such as critical thinking and problem-solving, communications, and conflict management.

Red, trying to be sarcastic, then asked if there was such a thing as “hard skills,” Black matter-of-factly told her those are tangible and technical skills such as computer skills.

Of course, Black couldn’t pass up an opportunity for sarcasm and explained that although there’s consensus about the importance of soft skills, there’s debate about what they should be called, with her favorite being the Texas Education Agency (TEA) calling them "21st Century Skills" – although she's old enough to remember they were important in the 20th Century, too.

But would anyone call them “Mom Skills”? Well, Red couldn’t help but remember the time Black told her, “Your job is every bit as demanding as a corporate position, and, in fact, you use many of the same skill sets.”Not something Red could ever have imagined, but it made sense once she better understood what soft skills are and how they are used. But then Black took it a step further,

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Red was your typical straight-A student, getting great grades starting in kindergarten straight through to graduating from college.(Black’s grades were less than stellar, plus she was a discipline problem – some things never change.) And then, excited and proud of herself, Red thought she was done. Black, on the other hand, thinks of education as something that never ends, and much to the chagrin of students, will tell them,

Homework never ends; it just is called “research” when you get older.

Over the last few years, Red has come around to Black’s way of thinking and realizes it’s a mindset. And that education is more than the classes you take in school.

September is when students of all ages are back in school, but it’s also National Literacy Month, which is about so much more than reading and writing. Literacy includes things like Digital Literacy, Financial Literacy, Health Literacy, and even News Literacy. (As the linked Conversation Starters indicate, Red was the “poster child” of a highly educated person who lacked many of these basic literacy skills.)

So, we challenge you to find a topic that interests you or one you could benefit from learning (personally or professionally) and start doing your homework.

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For many of us, Labor Day marks the end of summer (temperatures aside), and as we switch from a summer holiday mindset back to the “real world”, we can’t help but feel overwhelmed.

You don’t need us to tell you how falling back into a work or school routine can be challenging, especially if you’re facing a backlog of tasks and responsibilities. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, the “silly season” is just around the corner. (Red has been seeing Halloween decorations since mid-July, which means Thanksgiving and all the winter holidays aren’t far behind.)

But you don’t need us to tell you why you feel overwhelmed; you need help dealing with being overwhelmed.

When our new website goes live next year, one of the major sections will be THE DAILY HELP, where you’ll find easy-to-implement tools to get your day back on track and feel more in control.

But that doesn’t help you … NOW. So, here are a handful of our favorite posts to help you deal with daily challenges we all face. (Red admits that she picked the ones she felt she needed to reread.)

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