“Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places, if you look at it right.”
The Grateful Dead
By Sam Huber
In recent years, autism has stepped out of the shadows into an understanding of how individuals in society perceive the world. In my personal experience with autism, rather than a disability, I see autism from a broader perspective.
One day, I was sitting outside the classroom with an upset student at the Y.A.L.E. School, where I work as a teacher’s assistant (TA) with children on the autism spectrum. The student’s face was buried between his knees to hide his sobbing. The class had just discussed possible careers they might want to pursue when they grow up. He said, “Who would hire me? I am autistic. I am too retarded to work. I can’t even tie my shoes.” Sitting next to him, I whispered, “I will tell you a little secret. I am autistic too.” Through red-soaked eyes he looked at me in disbelief. “But Mr. Sam, you look and talk like a normal person. How can you be like me?” I said, “I am exactly like you, I just learned to find the strengths that my autism has given me,” to which the student replied, “How could being autistic help you?” I said, “It gave me the ability to understand you.” He gave me a surprised smile, got up, and headed back into the classroom.
The autism perspective can be broken down into three categories: high, middle, and low- functioning. As we become more aware of autism, we must shift our perspectives of viewing it as a gift, rather than a disability. The high-functioning autistic perspective (HFAP) enables someone to see hidden relationships between the physical world and humanity. For example, Albert Einstein was thought to have HFAP, and his theory of relativity taught us how time and space work together.
The middle and low-functioning autistic perspectives (MFAP or LEAP) may provide the most important gifts, because they teach us to love each other in more ways than we can imagine.
As a TA, I work with an MFAP student who got a job at McDonald’s. I swear, you’ve never seen a brighter smile from anyone after landing this job. The smile never left his face when he was mopping floors, taking orders, or cleaning those horrific bathrooms. After a couple of weeks and winning over his co-workers and customers, they no longer noticed his stutter or limited vocabulary. They came to love the smile that came with every order of fries.
The struggle for all autistic individuals lies not in their “disability,” but in the gift of gaining a positive perspective of themselves. As in the example of the student above, it’s a gift that works in two ways. He sheds positive light on those he comes in contact with through his delight in “small” tasks, and finds himself in the process. It all begins with a personal understanding of what autism gives you rather than what it takes away.
Samuel Huber is a husband, dad, teacher’s assistant, and writer who has autism. Learn more at www.samuelhuber.net.