I had a conversation today with a delightful young man named Andrew. I've spoken to him and his mother and have permission from them to write about that conversation. It happened during the lunch break and he came up to tell me that his mom was enjoying my talk but that he hadn't been listening very much. I laughed and said I could understand that his mind might be elsewhere.
I'm not sure how it happened, but somewhere in our chat he mentioned to me that he had Autism. I asked him what that meant to him and he said, without thinking, that having Autism explained to him, helped him understand who he was and why he was who he was. Those aren't his words, they're my understanding of his words. He said that before he knew he had autism he thought there was something really wrong with him. But once he knew that there was a word for what he was, he could just relax. "It didn't change me, but it changed how I saw the world." Those are his words, not mine.
Never have I heard a better way of describing why it's important for kids to know who they are, to have a means of identifying themselves to themselves. So many parents don't tell their kids with intellectual disabilities or autism about their disabilities and differences. So many people are terrified of 'labels' I'm not one of those. I believe in the politics of identity, I believe that identity is at the core of self acceptance, I believe that identity will confront shame, that shame confronted will morph into pride, that pride established will change the world.
Andrew, was a kid with a great sense of humour. He told me that when he made jokes about his autism he felt better because he could just laugh at his experiences. I told him that I did the same, it was a great way of releasing stress. We had much in common.
He went away from the stage and back to his mother and as I watched him, I thought, 'Self acceptance, that's the future.' Andrew, no doubt has faced and will face bitter battles with society and those who refuse to accept what he knows to be the truth - that Andrew's identity is bigger than
personality and smaller than Autism, and that somewhere between those two points is Andrew More and Andrew less. Goldilocks would have called him 'Just Right'. And so do I.