What to say to a young and unhappy Aspie
Growing up is hard. Growing up autistic is even harder. And while an early diagnosis is better than a late one in the long run, it can be difficult to come to terms with (it was tough enough for me at 54, and I'd figured out my true nature myself a few years before being formally diagnosed).
So earlier today I sat up and paid attention when I saw this question posted in an Aspie-support Facebook group I'm in:
"What advice would you give a young [autistic] teen that feels they are not good enough and doesn’t want to be different?"
All well and good, right?
But as I scrolled down the answers, my heart sank.
The advice I was seeing wasn't so much wrong as ineffectual and weak.
"You are great and being different is the best thing you can be... life would be boring if we were all the same..."
"March to the beat of your own drum. We all have differences and different strengths and weaknesses"
"We are all different. Embrace who you are and accept yourself"
Hell, it's all even true and correct.
But... come on, people — would any of this stuff helped YOU as a teenager?
To me it's like... it's like... when you get your heart broken for the first time and you're told there's plenty more fish in the sea, she (or he) was never good enough for you anyway, and time heals all wounds.
You know it's all true but it doesn't help a bit.
You know what I'd tell him, certified affective-empathy-free old sod that I am?
I'd tell him it's OK to feel that way but he is different, he is most likely good enough, but the sooner he learns to accept the facts as they are, the sooner he'll move on, and the happier he'll be.
I'd tell him he is autistic and different, and that's never going to change.
I'd tell him it is going to be tough and nothing's going to change that, either.
I'd tell him the best he'll ever do is learn to pretend better and he'll never fit in the way he thinks he might be able to if only he works hard enough at it.
And I'd tell him once he's accepted and embraced those facts, we can work together to play the hand he's been dealt as best he can, and, maybe, just maybe, we can play it so well one day he'll be glad to be the way he is...
... just like I did, and just like I am.
Bottom line: we do our autistic younger generations no favours by throwing out the homilies and the platitudes.
Jon McCulloch, The Evil Bald Genius
Author, speaker, business owner, and autism advocate