If I have given you the impression that life with my daughters if filled with constant challenges and lots of stress, then I need to apologize. It's not that your impression is incorrect, it's just incomplete. First of all, every parent faces these stressors and everyone's challenges are different. I realize that I am not alone; I do realize my war stories sound a little odd compared to many parents' stories, though. I also know as parents we all fret, from time to time, about whether we make the right decisions for our kids. I feel I have painted an incomplete picture, though, because you should know my stress is balanced by equal parts of wonder and joy. There is so much good that comes from having an autistic mind! For me, the silver lining shining around my daughters is a much bigger part of who they are than the dark cloud that goes with it.
So what are the upsides of autism? For me there are so many! I know that I am blessed that my daughters aren't severely autistic. They will grow up to be productive members of society that just have a few "social challenges". I should point out that the same description is often used for a large percentage of IT gurus and college professors around the world, most of whom aren't labeled autistic. Not only will my girls be productive, but most likely financially secure too! Score!
Seriously, though, one of the most obvious upsides for my girls is their amazing brains! They are extremely smart, as many on the spectrum are. Birdie's vocabulary is amazing! (The official term for this positive side-effect is hyperlexia.) She acquires new words-- expensive words-- at an impossible rate and then uses those words in everyday conversation and writing... and she uses them correctly. :) Having a conversation with her is unlike any other conversation you'll ever have with a seven year-old. My Princess's gift, on the other hand, is not one of language but of acute perception. She gives the impression that she is not aware of her surroundings when, in fact, she knows every detail about what is going on and why. She is also a very visual/spatial thinker. She remembers how to get to any place we have been to more than once; she has a mind for maps too, remembering every place in relation to its surroundings in great detail. In addition, both Birdie and Princess are insatiably curious and eager to understand. I am constantly wowed by and grateful for their mental gifts. I am so lucky to have two children that are interested in learning about their world and capable of understanding it so well. (Can you hear the pride gushing out of me?!)
A surprising upside has been the unbridled excitement and enthusiasm my girls have when they are really happy. When life is good and going her way, Princess gets so excited she trembles with happiness! It makes my heart sing to see her like that! I know that only a truly happy kid could experience life with such intensity that her body seems to hum. My whole family has come to recognize her trembling as a sign that they have done something right-- the perfect gift, the perfect surprise visit, or an overwhelmingly awesome experience-- and none of us can help but smile when we see it. Birdie's enthusiasm is expressed most often when telling you about her favorite topics: mythology, mythical creatures, monsters and cryptids (animals like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster). She lights up from the inside out when she teaches you (and you do learn something every time) about the Greek gods or dragons or the other critters she adores. She devours books on these topics with a smile on her face and has become fast friends with the librarian, who keeps and eye out for new titles for Birdie to consume. I wish I could have so much passion for something that I couldn't bear to keep it in, that it had to spew out to keep me from exploding. They do and I like it! I love it! It inspires me to look for my own source of unbridled enthusiasm.
Last but not least, I feel I am lucky to have the opportunity to experience the world from my daughters' perspectives sometimes. Their perspective is so different, so on its ear compared to most people's point of view. I get to see familiar things in an unfamiliar light and I discover I have more to learn. Princess and Birdie have taught me so many things I should have already known. They have taught me the importance of saying exactly what I mean to get the results I desire, rather than leaving my words open to interpretation. (This makes telling jokes at our house fabulously fun-- the punchline is never the funniest thing about the joke by the time my two lovelies get through picking it apart!) They have taught me that a face and words can lie, but that a person's tone always tell the truth. They have taught me to be sensitive to other's feelings, even if I don't want to-- if you think you might hurt someone's feelings, you probably already have. They have taught me that everything can be beautiful, you just have to look at the right part and that part isn't always on the outside. They have taught me to be quick to forgive the one's you love, eventually forgive the rest, and that you don't have to forget if you can't or don't want to. To forget might be to forget a valuable lesson learned. They have taught me to trust my instincts when I doubt myself and embrace my mistakes, for they will shape my future decisions. Most of all, they have taught me that no matter how old or young, big or small, broken or whole a person is, they still have plenty to teach me and that I should listen to them with my heart and be a good student. They have taught me these things by being good examples and excellent teachers themselves.
Like every other parent in the world, I feel like I have the most amazing, wonderful children ever born. I love them so much and I am so happy I won the cosmic lottery that assigned them to me. I no longer worry that I haven't made the most of my life, that I'm not changing the world, like so many of my friends assumed I would back in school. I would argue now that maybe I am doing these things, they just won't realize it until my children grow up and fulfill their future roles. My girls, Princess and Birdie, are like prizes I received in advance for a job that I hope will be well done. How did I get so lucky?