When we hear someone say ‘see the gift’ in autism, we are often extremely critical,
maybe even irritated and angry about such ‘insensitive and ignorant’ comment. I was one of those folks that had a difficult time with this comment during my first training. Surely, autism being a gift was only when the child was high functioning and had those amazingly out-of-this-world talents- but not for the ‘regular low functioning kiddo’ where parents could not communicate, could not get the child potty trained, much less get affectionate reactions- truly, that could not be seen as a gift…
However, after working my way through Isaacson’s books, I learned more and more what he meant when developing the concept of ‘seeing it as a gift’ my mind was profoundly changed. Through his journeys, it seemed he was trained and guided to open his mind, to engage with so many different perspectives, and finally to meet his child where he was at and celebrating moments of incredible powerful emotions together.
I connected when he described the struggles, the incredible strains, the immense uncontrollable frustration that crept into their lives- because that is human, that is what we all go through, that is what connects us as human race. The difference is that Isaacson developed compassionate mindfulness to mastery, that he learned to celebrate the good and enjoy the moments that were successful, like when Rowan rode Betsy by himself and Rupert ‘stood, heart racing, and stopped her. A rider. I could have cried.’ (Isaacson R., The Long Ride Home, 2016)- it did not even dawn on me with my neurotypical teens that a moment like this could be so powerful and yes, such a gift.
There are folks that simply live more passionate than others, they suffer much stronger and love wholeheartedly, laugh louder, cry more intensely- and I think some autistic children guide us to do so- to place more value on what we experience. To get something from them: a look, a handshake, a calm moment... lets us experience our entire range of emotions in deeper and more intense emotions.
As human race, we tend to focus on the negative, on the downside, on the comments that hurt us, on the bad in our lives. It is proven that our brain is wired to remember the bad things more than the good things and it takes training to go against it.
If we could just refocus our mind! One very simple example: Discussing my dislike for hyenas (and really, they are not the cutest animals on the planet) trying to defend my stands in a small circle of friends, one pointed out the talents of the animal, the fascination he had with them, and finally one pulled out a puppy picture of a hyena which totally mooted my point. There is beauty in them, yes even cuteness- who would have thought...
Strolling home after what seemed just a playful conversation, I reflected on this experience: We do get so focused on the negative, and why? What is it that we get from it besides suffering and misery? The same in schools- what do negative thoughts really bring us? If we can be more mindful, realize the bad and focus on the gifts that are still hidden in our lives and are much more pleasurable, we can support others to be more positive.
I noticed when I have a growth mindset for my students, it is contagious! My students start believing in themselves as well. When I start by describing some fun activities from my classroom rather than complain about my always chatty class- it changes the conversation to be inspiring rather than wearing everyone out. Teachers get excited and creative rather than drawn down the spiral of negativity.
When Isaacson talks about seeing ‘the gift in autism’ he does not demean the difficulties and challenges that come with having an autistic child (he certainly knows all about it)- rather, I think he tries to enlighten and share the amazing moments and learning that come out of challenges that can help us become better human beings.
When we open our minds a bit and challenge ourselves to see the beauty in the world around us, life becomes a whole new experience and we can celebrate and accept our differences.