(Note: this article is an edited version of a Facebook post I submitted to the Autistic Allies Facebook group. Several people asked me to put it in a more shareable format, so here it is!)
In February of 2017, my social worker called to ask if I was willing to take my first foster child placement. She described her as a “six year old with high-functioning autism.” I was excited. I’d been a teacher for almost ten years at that point, and I’d always enjoyed my students with autism.
That foster daughter became my adopted daughter in May of 2018. I think about that call sometimes — how I was excited that my first foster child would be autistic. It’s weird to say that you like the qualities in people that the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) lists as symptoms of a disorder, right?
In my search for perspective, I joined a Facebook group called Autistic Allies, where adults with autism share their experiences with parents of autistic children and other allies. There, I read blog posts on Autistic and Unapologetic, The Aspergian, and cartoons by Beth Wilson. These autistic authors and artists helped me understand that my love for my daughter’s and students’ autistic qualities is exactly the kind of acceptance many people are working hard to promote. It’s called neurodiversity: the idea that neurological differences in humans should be accepted the way we accept and celebrate other differences in humans.
That got me thinking: How can I communicate why and how I love my daughter’s autism?
That’s why I made the list below. I copy-pasted some “symptoms” of autism from the NIMH website and, next to them, why I love them in my daughter.
I hope you enjoy!
“Tending not to look at or listen to people.” She may not be looking, but she’s always listening; she just doesn’t signal it the way people expect. I love when she surprises me or others with her precise understanding of a conversation happening off to the side while she was engaged in another activity.
“Rarely sharing enjoyment of objects or activities by pointing or showing things to others.” I am an introvert, and I love how my daughter and I can spend time physically together but mentally apart.
“Having difficulties with the back and forth of conversation / Often talking at length about a favorite subject without noticing that others are not interested or without giving others a chance to respond.” I love her social “inadequacies.” First of all, I’ve struggled with this, too, so I relate. I also work with children her age, and watching them play neurotypically (i.e. vy for power) can be terrifying. My daughter has no interest in gossip or power play, which I think makes her infinitely endearing. She’s also excellent at a skill many people neglect or undervalue in children — the ability to play by herself and enjoy her own company.
“Having facial expressions, movements, and gestures that do not match what is being said.” She has an amazing ability to inject sayings or movie quotes into conversations in ways that demonstrate high verbal intelligence, even if she can’t improvise a response. I love it!
“Having an unusual tone of voice that may sound sing-song or flat and robot-like.” I love her voice.
“Having trouble understanding another person’s point of view or being unable to predict or understand other people’s actions.” I am very good at this, and let me tell you, plenty of neurotypical people stink at this and think they’re great at it, so while my daughter struggles with this, so do most people, in my eyes.
“Repeating certain behaviors or having unusual behaviors. For example, repeating words or phrases, a behavior called echolalia.” I’m unusual too, if you haven’t figured that out yet, and always have been. I value her unusual behaviors as much as another parent might value normalcy.
“Having a lasting intense interest in certain topics, such as numbers, details, or facts.” I love her intense focus on the things she loves! She teaches me so much.
“Getting upset by slight changes in a routine.” She keeps our family on a tight schedule, which is good for us, especially as foster family! Kids with a history of trauma do better in structured environments with few surprises.
“Being more or less sensitive than other people to sensory input, such as light, noise, clothing, or temperature.” Knowing her sensory needs and providing her with the things/situations she needs to handle them is a way for me to speak her love language — in other words, it provides me with extra ways to show her how much I love her.
If you are autistic, I hope you have someone in your life who values you and speaks your love language. You are lovable just the way you are. I hope you hear that enough.
If you are interested in learning more about neurodiversity as it pertains to autism, I recommend the following resources: