Have you ever walked by someone in the mall or seen someone walking on the street and just known that they didn't quite fit in? Do you remember laughing at another kid in school because they didn't act the same as everyone else? Did you do it a lot? I did. I'm guilty of that....and I bet most of you reading this are guilty too. Makes you feel a little shitty doesn't it. Now that you're all grown up I bet you wish you could do it all over again. "I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger," by Faces strike a cord with anyone?
Since Kate was diagnosed my patience for people who don't quite fit in, or struggle with social interactions has grown exponentially. Just last week I was waiting in line behind a gentleman ordering lunch. He was having a hard time deciding what to order. He had a question about every item on the menu. Every item!!! It was taking a really long time. The old me would have gotten really frustrated, but not the new me. The new me listened a little closer to the discussion between the man and the cashier. Turns out the man was on a gluten free diet. He had to be pretty careful what he was ordering. I get that it's difficult to get food when you're on a gluten free diet now. But, when I turned around to sneak a peak at the other customers in an ever growing line I didn't see a whole lot of tolerance on the faces. It's a shame really. To a lesser extent the man in front of me was being singled out for being a little different. Just like when I was back in high school teasing the kids who didn't fit in.
So what's with this oppressive societal pressure pushing us towards normality? What is normal? Who decides? Are you normal? I doubt it.
So do you wish that you could go back and do things a little different? Did you tease anyone? Were you even a little bit of a bully? It's OK, you can make up for it :) Maybe the next time someone is clicking their pen or tapping their foot on the floor in a meeting you'll give them a break. They might be doing it because the social interaction is stressing them out and they need to focus on the tapping subconsciously to relieve some stress. Maybe the next time someone needs to be alone for awhile you'll understand and not bug them about it. This is my favorite clip from The Big Bang Theory. Some people may not like that I've used Sheldon Cooper as an example here, (is he a tribute to autistic individuals or an offensive caricature of Aspergers?) but I think it fits. There are differing opinions on how the show wants us to think of Sheldon. I'm not trying to stir up any trouble here, just trying to make a point. At about 1:30 of the clip he explains why he goes and takes a break everyday. He's overwhelmed daily by social interactions. He's overstimulated. I'm not sure I would have understood before, but I do now. The clip brought a tear to my eye the first time I saw it.
So what's the takeaway? What can you do?
I think you have two choices when presented with an individual who you may perceive as 'different' or 'not normal'. You can make the lazy choice and decide that the person is different and all they deserve is to be ridiculed, or be made to feel below you. Will this make you feel better about yourself? Will it make you feel like you're normal? Or, are you just perpetuating the societal convention of striving for normalcy. The second option is to really think about what that person might be experiencing. Maybe they are under-stimulated and need to move around a lot. Maybe they are over-stimulated at times and need a break. Here's what our journey with autism has taught me. There a people in this world who are different and perceive the world in a different way. Be patient, tolerant and understanding. Teach your kids that others may struggle where they thrive. Teach them to celebrate the differences in others and focus on their strengths. Maybe then they won't tease the different kids. Maybe then we can make up for the teasing or bullying we might have committed when we were young and didn't know what we know now.
Oh the things we've learned since July. And the things we'll accomplish in the future.
"Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do." - Steve Jobs