‘To Thine Own Self Be True’

 ‘To Thine Own Self Be True’

By Kami-Leigh Agard

“I worry about the day when my son realizes he is different.”

Not so long ago, an absolutely amazing and dedicated dad with a son on the autism spectrum, quietly whispered these words to me as he wistfully looked at his son. After an awkward pause that felt like a lifetime, I just smiled and nodded; dumbfounded as I did not know how to respond. I always worried about how the WORLD will judge my daughter, but it never occurred to me until then, how SHE judges herself because of her spectrum of autism.

That moment has stuck with me, and now each day, I look at my daughter, wondering how does she view herself? Many evenings, she sits at the front door, longingly staring at the children playing in the street. She would put her shoes on, pulling me towards the door, as if to say, “Can I go outside and play too?” When her cousin comes to visit, she and the neighbor’s daughter chat and play with dolls, while my daughter skips up and down the yard, merrily having fun by herself, not caring to engage with them. Then just recently, a boy, a few years younger than my daughter, said to me, “She’s weird. Why is she flapping her hands like that.” I turned red, tears filling my eyes, and clumsily responded, “Oh, she’s just excited.”

Folks, I have no idea how my daughter feels about herself. She is nonverbal and doesn’t play with other children. Just the other day, it occurred to me that she doesn’t cry; even if she falls and bruises herself.

I like to say that she takes after her dad and me. We’re pretty different ourselves, marching to the beat of our individual drums, but in the case of my daughter and autism, how does it translate to how she feels about herself amongst the so-called “neurotypical” world?

I don’t have the answers, but my hope is that my daughter and other children on the spectrum realize that being different does not equate to being less than. In a past guest post in this column, local mom, Jane Garfield Frank, said this about her son, “I fought to make HIM see, and by extension, the world to see, that although he has a disability, it is merely a PART of who he is — bringing many challenges, but beauty too — and importantly, that he does not have to let disability define him…That I have been able to impart this understanding to my son is one of the greatest gifts I have given him.”

As aptly stated by America’s apostle of individualism, Ralph Waldo Emerson, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” And this is the mantra I want my daughter and other individuals on the spectrum to secure in their hearts — different does not make you less, but more equipped to forge a unique path!

Please share your thoughts by emailing: kami@rockawaybeachautismfamilies.org

Save the date! Rockaway Beach Autism Families 2nd Annual Walk for Autism will be on Sunday, April 21 on the boardwalk. Plus, we have a host of more events happening in April, which is Autism Awareness Month. More details to come! For further info., visit: Rockaway Beach Autism Families on Facebook or Instagram.

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