We are learning about space. Imagining whats our there, trying to conceive how big the universe really is, how little we are and really know. The one thing i have noticed the most since coming here, is the stars. Rarely in life, did i look up. Now i can’t help but not. Here in this wide open space, the stillness of night brings a peace i have never known before. The black skies are free from impeding suburban lights and are now dark and mysterious and filled with such a magnitude of stars. It reminds me how small this moment is, how we are just circling around and around again in life. Children love the mystery, they are more open to mystical theories and stories around life, worlds and gods innocently holding notions that anything is plausible. Rationality has yet to taint their thinking. They are yet to be corrupted by the rules of the way things are said to be. I don’t want to play that role in their lives. I want their hearts, minds and souls to remain wide open to the extraordinary mystery of this world, of their lives. I want them to believe the believable truth that anything is possible. Because who has the right to say it’s not. Our children are more awake, than ever before. Old ways of parenting and teaching children will never work on these new generations, they know too much, they won’t be dictated to, just because we believe we are older and wiser, if that really means anything anyway. We need to come to children on the level of respect that we wish them to come to us with. My three-year old will allow nothing to be done for her. She will master everything with her determination even if it means kicking and screaming through the frustration of trying. We all listen, usually horrified at the rage that can erupt in her tiny body, but she is adamant on allowing no help. So we let her go, raging and all and eventually she always succeeds in her endeavours. I cannot imagine her learning way would be seen as socially acceptable in a school environment, yet she is very much learning, in a very loud and often obtrusive way. She has not learnt this from people around her, she hasn’t been role modelled this reactive behaviour, it is simply uniquely her, innately born way. If i was to try to stop or halter her or give her the impression that it is unacceptable to voice her frustration in trying so hard, then i am hindering her voice, her determination, her powerful innate drive to succeed at what ever she sets her mind to. I won’t play that role for my children. I won’t be the one to tell them that they can’t do something because it seems too hard or implausible. And it wont bother me if she kicks and screams her way through life, at least i know she won’t succumb to being silenced easily.
We have been enjoying what could be the final warm days before winter approaches. Our beach explorations are almost a daily ritual now. I imagine we will just trade our bare feet for woollen beanies and gumboots and continue on through the colder seasons, rather than forgoing this regular adventure we have become so accustomed to. There is so much discovering and learning to be done right beneath our feet. This place we now call home has become the learning ground for us all, full of science and biology, life and language. On this day, alone we see crabs that have died recently still full of colour and shape allowing little curious minds study them closely to see if any signs of life remain. They ponder over a washed up skeletal shell that has been floating in limbo, now resembling little to who it once was, prompting questions of life, bodies and where we go when we are no longer here encompassing our shells? We play with seaweed that pops water when you squeeze it, discover jelly fish and intensely investigate their tentacles. Learning this way, is peaceful, it flows to a beautiful life rhythm that can’t be obtained in the class room or from behind a desk. It is here that our children are learning about real life and cycles, growth and change. They are absorbing everything and anything that interests them, with minds like sponges. They are leading the way in their learning right now, deciding what they want to know more about, its they way we would like it to remain, it’s the way i believe it should be. For now this is the way we will move, it’s the way that serves the children the best. We will learn, create and discover the world around us hands on, and endeavour to grow and evolve and nourish our humble, inquisitive little people on their journey.
life on the autism journey is always a bitter-sweet battle for me. The battle rather has more to do with the outside world than the sanctuary of our own spaces. My predicament comes from trying to figure out how much do I insist he learn to change and conform himself to fit into what has been deemed to be acceptable social norms, and how much is simply left to remain exactly as it perfectly is.
Autism has this beautiful quality where it demands that you be impeccable with your word. you must say only what is true. Your must keep to your word, always and precisely in what you are offering, anything less always results in deep confusion and distress. It is a mindful practice, one that challenges me always and where emotional attachments play a very minute role. Its takes great discipline to become aware of everything you speak and to remember that everything to the Autism mind is literal. It is one of my most favourite qualities, amongst the many. I am learning, that not everything said has to be taken so personally, i have learnt to become unattached to the words, love has many guises. I am not hurt if my superman voices that he doesn’t miss me when we are apart or when he periodically moves out of home and into his nanas house and says he’s staying forever at age four. I’m not needing him to fill any illusionary gaps of insecurity within myself. I’m not needing him to kiss and cuddle on my terms when intimacy for him feels like an intrusion into his space. More often that not, his affection is shared through rough and tumble games on the couch, and for me that will always be enough.
How much do I train his indifference? Endeavour to adapt his behaviours so that they are more suitable, more pleasant to the outside world? He will most likely always say inappropriate things at inappropriate times yet they will always be truthful. Do I try to filter the truth for the benefit of others, to spare unanticipated feelings being hurt through their misunderstanding? Do I even have the right? This is after all who he is, in all his shades, the difference is, he really is no different to any of us at all. We are all of this, accept most of us just don’t say out loud what we are thinking, and more often that not filter our truths in fear of being judged, not liked, or to keep up with what ever disguise we have going on in that moment anyway. The Autism mind will always struggle to understand the false fabrications we invent to cover up true emotions being expressed, they will always state the obvious in any given moment no matter how socially awkward or offensive it may be, and i am drawn to this outwardly candid approach, there is greater depth for learning here.
We have in the safe sanctuary of our space, learnt not to take offence to the words. We have learnt to laugh more easily, even at the inappropriate, especially at the inappropriate. We are beginning to understand that the words and actions on their own, carry no feeling they are just words, just actions. They hold no power until we decide that they do. It is only then that our own insecurities paired with the words or actions hold any force, or can take on impact in a negative or positive way in our lives. We are always going to come across people in our lives, who we will disagree with, who’s words and actions will not serve us, this is the beauty of life, the beauty of diversity. We have much to learn from the Autism mind. They have the ability to detach, to not place meaning in the meaningless. ‘ Suffering is universal. The origin of Suffering is Attachment. The Cessation of Suffering is Attainable. Path to the Cessation of suffering is, (after all) Detachment’ -Buddha
It is hard to explain and accept that you can’t just assume that he will always embrace your affections. That after hours or days or even weeks of not seeing his delightful smile, that he would openly allow you to take him into your arms. So that you may show him how much you love him, how much he means to you. This is not how it works for him. He must decided when. He must decide how it will play out. This is alright if you have no needs to fill, if you are perfectly happy within the space he creates for a while. It is hard to explain that this is not personal. That even a mother, a father, a grandparent or sibling can be denied at anytime. It is easy to assume that just because he wont allow you to take him in your arms, that he is not happy to see you. It is easy to mistake this for not caring. It is easy to feel hurt, even betrayed by his rejections. He is only three, and unaware of it all. I see, when people come to visit, how excited he is, how he hides this behind peculiar noises and animal masks. I see, that he is wanting to engage you, how happy he is that you are here, that you have come to see him. He may not show you this in the way you are expecting. He may show you this by watching you for a while from a distance, he may talk to you from behind his hands or he’ll find something for you to play with beside him. When he’s ready, when he feels that there is no longer any pressure, he will show you love. The love that you were seeking from the very beginning. I have found that it is always better to ask first. This is an unusual mannerism to try to adopt, to try to get others to follow suit too, that we should ask the other if a cuddle is alright or a kiss to say I love you, especially if that other is only a child. We are so accustomed to greeting each other this way, it comes naturally for most, and usually expected. It’s a pattern we have had to relearn for this little one. In the process it is teaching us about boundaries and personal space even with the ones we love. We are having to teach him about feelings and empathy and faces and body language. Why we sometimes cry and that laughing means you are happy. We are learning too, every step of the way, to take more notice of each other, to read the signs, to assume nothing and most of all to be patient. I don’t know if this will ever come naturally to him, if he will always find it at times uncomfortable and unnecessary. I’m not sure if we can change this or if we even should be trying. He is who he is, it won’t always fit with the world, it won’t always be what we want it to be, but if we can teach him to love and embrace himself in all his uniqueness and not be bothered so much about the things that really don’t matter, then I believe, that will be more than enough.
I am sending you this in response to a conversation you had with a student, my daughter, a few weeks ago prior to the end of term.Firstly I wish to express that by writing this letter, by no means am I wanting this to cause any disturbance or ill feelings with in the teaching and school environment, my intention here is simply to inform you of a different perspective on a simple conversation for your further consideration.
The conversation in question proceeded with you asking my daughter if she knew what it was she wanted to do with her life after secondary school, or if she had an idea of what it is she could see herself doing with her future.
Undoubtedly, this is a relevant and important question that these young adults need to begin thinking about. It is a question of such significance that often it is asked over and over again many times though out a single life time.
My daughter, has indeed considered this question in great depths over the past few years, it is a conversation that naturally occurs quite regularly in our family around the dinner table. My daughter is insightful and clear about what it is that simply makes her happy and what it is that does not. She has an understanding about the things in life that drive her to want to know more, learn more about, take action on, become a voice for. She is passionate in life and understandings about the things that Really matter. Her strongest and most obvious caliber is her ability to create; her visual mind is of extraordinary magnitude.
When she answered this question for you, she gave you her absolute truth.She gave you a lovely list of things she ‘could see’, and I emphasize here, ‘see’ herself doing with her future. Her list I imagine would have consisted of many creative ideas and inventiveness. I understand that from an academic point of view this may not seem like a viable way to pave for ones future, that these choices that are being considered may or may not lead to what society deems a suitable or economically sustainable way of living. Your responses however, whether it be what you actually believe, or a moment of unconscious thought, to my daughter’s ideas about her life’s future were quite disheartening and surprising to say the least. You proceed to inform her that her ideas she was considering were merely just that of ‘hobbies’ and that they were not a means for ‘making a living’. I don’t wish to quote here on the exact way in which the conversation took place, however what does matter is the understanding of which my daughter walked away with from the experience.
You have in your judgments of what is considered to be a viable future and what is not, bought her to a place at a vital young age to question herself about her abilities to offer something of value and insight to the world in which we live.
Now, my question to you is this, if we are not to guide these young minds to follow their dreams, to pursue their passions and the very things that are the driving force behind what makes them who they are as individuals, and instead lead them to follow the ideas and beliefs of another on the advice that it is a better way, or the only sustainable way; are we not creating a society of individuals who need to perform rather than live and rather than acceptance of who they are, conditioning them into an idea of what they should be?
I beg you to consider this, if we are to follow the essence of who we are, and are fortunate enough to be able to offer a valuable truth of ourselves to the world and the people in which inhibit this world, are we not in essence creating a better place for ourselves and those around us to live. Where would we be with out the creative writers who offer their poetry for you to teach, where would we be without the painters who have embellished this planet with extraordinary pieces that are admired and past down through the tests of time, and the person who sat with pencil in hand and drew the outline of the satchel you carry your important papers in, and the books that are written, the gardens you stroll through, the glorious meals created from ingredients before they find themselves into the recipe books you cook from.
There are millions of ways to walk this life, my daughter is blessed enough that she falls into many, many ideas in which she will pave her way, all of which I’m certain will have a creative flare. And when I think of that prospect for her, I am unconcerned with the amount of money she will make, or even the details in how it will happen. For now, all that is important is that she believes in herself.
You hold an important and highly valued role within the school community, and have always been highly regarded in your opinion towards particular subjects with my children. It must be recognized that your view does impact the ways in which we move these young minds towards their futures. That you are in fact, in a position of great significance by educating and shaping these minds with ideas about themselves and the choices they will need to make.
Another student at the school, recently showed me a thought provoking piece by Alan Watts, titled ‘What if money was no object’ that is quite similar to that of which I have expressed here, if you are yet to see this piece, you may find it of interesting listening.