ASIAM is a new charity based in Ireland with a new and innovative approach to supporting those on the Autistic Spectrum. It’s the brainchild of Adam Harris, a young man who himself has Asperger’s Syndrome, and it’s aim is to create a one-stop autism information and meeting point for all who work in this field, families and friends of people on the ASD spectrum as well as people diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorders. There are pockets of excellent practice, innovative thought, real success stories all over Ireland and elsewhere – Adam’s aim is to bring all this experience and energy together, to create ASIAM, which stands for Autistic Spectrum Information and Meeting-point.
I was honoured when Adam contacted me recently on Twitter and invited me to write a piece for the charity. This is my contribution
AsIAm. I just love the name. Accept me as I am. Love me as I am. Don’t try to change me because I’m happy as I am. Yet in the real world, how often does that really happen for people with autism?
In our society, being different isn’t cherished as it should be. Being different should be something everyone wants to aspire to, yet from the moment we start school until the moment we retire from our last job, our being different is squeezed and squashed until we can fit neatly into the same size and shape box as everybody else. Even if you are not on the autistic spectrum, this expectation of uniform conformity can crush people’s spirits, it can make them feel awkward about expressing their real thoughts and feelings, and it can mean they spend their whole lives never really becoming the person they were meant to be.
Difference should be celebrated. We’ll never make any progress or get anywhere as a society if we are all the same. We all have to pool our talents, our ideas, our characteristics, our aptitudes and our personalities if we want to achieve anything worth achieving, and that means all of us, the more different, surely, the better?
When did we start to think that being the same as everyone else was the right thing to do? I think it may have started around 150 years ago, once education became compulsory. Schools are packed to the rafters with hundreds of children, and the only way to keep any control whatsoever is to impose rules that mean children must sit still and listen and learn.
Some children can do this really well, but many just can’t. The different ones who find it harder to squeeze themselves into that box marked “uniform and normal” just never stood a chance. We then started to develop two very different groups of children; those who suited school and those who didn’t.
The ones who managed to cope with the rules at school could take exams, and over time, society began to reward those with the best exam results by giving them better jobs with more money, more respect and more life choices.
The different ones, the ones who just had too much to do or to say or to think to be able to sit still and listen, started to be ridiculed by the ones who were good at exams, and they start to lose their self-esteem and self-confidence. We stopped even trying to look at what these children might be good at; because we all felt that if they couldn’t pass exams and sit still and listen then they probably can’t be good at anything else.
A lot of these children, unable to take part in the school and exams way of doing things, are on the autistic spectrum. By the time they leave school, all many of them may have learnt is that they are useless.
Yet they are so not! How can we tell them and the rest of society that we need their skills, their thoughts, their ideas, and their characteristics? Without the meaningful input of everyone, society is like a jigsaw with several pieces missing.
10 great things people with Autism can add to society
1. They have sensory sensitivities. In days gone by, it may have been the person with autism who heard the predators coming first, when there was still time to take cover and save the lives of everyone in the village. They may have been asked to taste food first, because their palates are so well-developed they may have been able to detect bad food that otherwise would have caused a food poisoning outbreak. They were and still are able to see dangers ahead of time when there is still a way to keep safe. Society needs to find a way to use these skills of theirs again for the good of us all.
2. They are independently minded. They will stick to their principles and beliefs and won’t be coerced into doing things they don’t want to just to please other people. If only everyone could stand so firmly for what they really think and believe rather than always following the crowd.
3. They can be hyper-focused, careful and meticulous, when most people are slap-dashed and half-hearted. There is so much they have to contribute.
4. They are honest. They say it as it really is, no hype, no spin, no game-playing. If we always ran decisions past them, they could help us all see which are the decisions that might really work, and which ones carry a hidden agenda, or assumptions, opinion, self-promotion, attitudes or emotional baggage?
5. They don’t like noise and bustle and busyness. We could all benefit if we slowed down and made the world a quieter place.
6. They can concentrate on a single thing of interest for far longer than most. That can lead towards perfection and excellence.
7. They don’t judge people. We could all learn to be kinder to others from their example.
8. They are passionate about things, and their passion can make things happen.
9. They don’t give up easily, they keep going until something is finished.
10. They think differently. Put their thinking about things into the pot with everyone else’s thoughts, and we will all see things from even more angles, which will enrich us all.
When Temple Grandin said people with ASD are “Different, not less”, she knew exactly what she was talking about!
To find out more about ASIAM please visit their very impressive website, and the very first thing you should do when you get there is to watch the short video clip of Adam Harris who tells you much better than I can exactly what the charity is all about. http://www.asiam.ie/
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