They gaze into the distance or lose themselves in focusing on some object. Their concentration is intense without being strained. Sometimes, they make strange movements with their hands as they chant the same mantra over and over. We may not understand what we see when we watch monks in deep meditation, yet we are awed. Why then, when our autistic children engage in similar behaviors, do we despair?
- Why won’t she look at me?
- Why is he doing that thing with his hands?
- Can’t she be still for a minute?
- Why does he have to repeat the same phrase over and over?
- It’s like she’s not even here!
In The Autism Prophecies, William Stillman writes “…if we always presume the competence of the person within, the non-verbal individual with autism exists in a perpetual state of meditation – always pondering, reflecting, considering, processing, and very carefully observing.”
We have a strong sense of how things should be in the world. We know how people are supposed to behave. We know how children should develop.
When our children deviate from the shoulds and supposed tos, we hasten to set them back on the worn path that people have walked for millennia. It is human nature to want to fit in. Belonging to a group and demonstrating our usefulness to it was once essential to survival. Rejection from the group meant almost certain death.
Interestingly, as humanity evolved, it was not those who fit in but those who stood out that are remembered.
A Facebook friend recently posted: “Ludwig van Beethoven, Albert Einstein, Emily Dickinson, Thomas Edison, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Isaac Newton, Nikola Tesla, and Vincent Van Gogh were all autistic.”
We can’t posthumously diagnose these people with autism, but one thing is certain: All those who devoted their lives to doing what everyone else did are long forgotten. We remember and venerate individuals who deviated from the norm. In their own times, they were considered odd and eccentric. Their ideas and talents were often scorned. Today, they are recognized for their genius.
As we consider the possibility that our children’s differentness is an asset, our view of them and ourselves begins to change.
If we teach every child to focus on compassion for one hour, once a week, we could end all violence in one generation.
The Dalai Lama
It appears that our autistic and uniquely magnificent children already have this focus. We can learn from them.