Imagine from the moment you were born, every aspect of your being was evaluated and studied with a critical eye. Imagine that who you were, the way you spoke, moved and behaved was seen as wrong and in need of fixing. Imagine from an early age people talked about you in front of you as though you couldn't hear them. Imagine even if you didn't fully understand, you understood the emotions behind the words, the disappointment, the fear, the anger, but you had no idea why. Imagine how that would make you feel. Now, imagine how you would feel if you understood every single word uttered, but you could not speak or make it known to others that you did. Imagine how you'd feel if you grew up believing your existence caused others discomfort, pain and sadness.
Imagine if as a small child you were assaulted by light, sound, touch, odors, taste -- things that did not cause others pain but that made your life almost unbearable. Imagine that you also felt people's energy intensely, but were often confused and overwhelmed by these feelings. Imagine that when you cried in distress, you were greeted with anger or were told nothing was wrong and to stop behaving this way. Imagine how you would feel after you finally located the correct words and spoke them, people misunderstood you, became angry or you were told the tone you used was inappropriate or the volume with which you spoke was too loud or too soft. Imagine trying as hard as you could to speak as you'd been instructed, but no matter how hard you tried, you never seemed to get it "right." Imagine what that would be like.
Try to imagine how you'd feel if you mustered up the courage to reach out to another human being only to be shunned, teased or told to go away. Imagine what it would be like to want to have friends and play dates and sleepovers, but you had none. Imagine trying to make friends, but no matter how hard you tried, none wanted to spend time with you, and you didn't know why. What if your attempts to be friendly were seen as acts of hostility? What if you punched someone on the shoulder because you'd seen friends do that and they always laughed, but when you did it, you were taken to the principal's office, reprimanded and threatened with expulsion. How would that make you feel? How about if you joined in a conversation, but the minute you said something, everyone stopped speaking and stared at you with looks of surprise, or worse, annoyance and even anger. How would that make you feel?
Try to imagine what it would be like if the things that brought you joy were ridiculed or taken away from you. Imagine if you loved to jump up and down, that this motion made you happy and calm, but when you did you were punished. Just imagine what it would be like if the things you found fascinating were joked about and seen as strange. Now, imagine that you are unable to make words form in your mouth so that you could say anything to explain or protest. Or imagine if you were able to speak, but when you did your words seemed to cause upset and you were threatened with punishment. How would you feel if those who had power over you told you they would institutionalize you if you didn't behave yourself, except you couldn't remember how it was you were suppose to behave? Take a moment to really imagine how that would feel. Imagine what it is like to need help, to have to depend on people and to have those people hurt you, betray you and get angry with you.
Imagine how it would feel if experts talked about your neurology as deficient. Imagine how it would feel to be told you were incapable of emotions and couldn't understand your fellow human beings. When you disagreed, people said it was impossible to have a "rational" conversation with you. When you described how painful it was to look directly into people's eyes because it was like seeing into their souls, that it was overwhelming and you could no longer hear what they were saying, or when people went to hug you it made your skin crawl or the odor emanating from another so powerful you worried you might be sick, you were accused of being manipulative and people demanded you do it anyway. Imagine how you'd feel if those same people then said you were difficult and rude when you confronted them with their own insensitivity. Just imagine how you'd feel if you read and heard people who had never met you say how people like you were violent and to be feared, even though the only one you had ever hurt was yourself. Imagine what it would be like to be dismissed and silenced over and over. Just try to imagine what that must be like.
Try to imagine what it might be like to be autistic.
Ariane Zurcher can be found on her blog: Emma's Hope Book.
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