I have had the fortunate opportunity to virtually meet a rather charming young man, Cale Irwin, via Twitter. Cale blogs at Spectrum Siblings about how he copes, loves and thrives as an Aspergic teen. I asked Cale if he would submit a guest post for my blog and what he has written is a great message for parents and perhaps a glimpse into the future for many of us.
I sat down to talk to a professor lately about doing some summer research. Here were her requirements for lab assistants:
1) A complete devotion to the topic. A willingness to devote 4-6 hours daily to combing the literature and taking copious notes.
2) A willingness to forsake Friday and Saturday night parties to come to the lab to work.
3) An ability to spend work periods isolated from social interaction; i.e. not texting, calling, or inviting over others while working.
4) An acute memory for detail; an ability to notice slight changes in the appearance or behavior of the rats.
5) A strong sense of cleanliness and a need to return everything to its proper place when research is completed.
6) An ability to convey information in a factual and direct manner.
Why is this relevant to you? Because the professor could have said “I want an autistic student” and would have conveyed the same needs.
Many autistic characteristics seem to stand in your son or daughter’s way when attending preschool through high school. You worry about things like, How can I help him broaden his interests? and How do I get her interested in her peers? and When will he stop fixating on that pendulum and look at how cool the clock is as a whole? And these are problems in a school which offers 9 different classes a day, including one specifically devoted to interacting with peers (i.e. recess).
But in college, and the world of research, these traits stop being deficiencies and become advantages. Employers will scour the applicant pool looking for kids just like yours; kids with their unique blend of talents and idiosyncrasies that will perfectly match the need of the company or institution.
When the diagnosis of autism first comes down, many parents are crushed. But that’s partially because they’re only looking at the here and now, at how their child is different from most and how that creates a chasm between them and their peers. But with time, they’ll begin to see that this separation runs both ways; that what the autistic child might be lacking in social graces the neurotypical child is lacking in perceptive ability and dedication.
One of the keys to understanding autism is to look at the world from a new perspective. And when examining the capabilities of your autistic child, this change in perspective is exactly what’s called for.
Cale can be found on Twitter @Frogger11758.