When we lived in New York City, we had friends from Bangladesh who invited us over for dinner. When we arrived at their apartment, we expected to be seated at a table and be served food. They both had PhDs from US universities and worked on Wall Street. It took us by surprise when we were seated on the floor in order to eat. We were given no silverware and were expected to eat with our hands. This was very unusual for us. I politely asked for a fork and knife, to which they smiled and obliged. To me, sitting on the floor eating with my hands is very unusual. However, to them, I was the peculiar one who requested a fork in order to eat. Neither one of our ways is the “right” way to eat. We simply learned different customs when we grew up, and to both of us, our unusual ways are “normal.”
When Autistic children flap their hands, they don’t think their behaviors are unusual. To the Autistic individual, this is normal. It might make them feel happy and calm and helps them self-regulate. These are their feelings and their emotions. It is the non-autistic onlooker that has a problem. It is our own insecurities and anxieties that cause us to want them to stop flapping their hands. Flapping their hands doesn’t hurt us; it causes us no pain. Yet, we try to force Autistic children to put their hands down, because we don’t feel the need to flap our own hands. We are embarrassed when onlookers see our child flapping. Who are we to dictate that our way is better, that our way is normal? As long as it doesn’t hurt us, we need to be more accepting of things that are unusual to us.
Currently, the most common outlook on Autism is that it is something that must be cured. It is wrong that our children flap their hands and do things that are different from “average” children. It is wrong that our children don’t socialize in the same way as the “typical” child. We are bombarded with advice from others trying to tell us how things are, how things should be, and what to do about it. There are professionals who treat us like they know everything there is to know about our children, when the fact of the matter is, they don’t! In the field of Autism, there are many questions that are unanswered and there are many things that people just don’t know yet. At the end of the day, nobody knows your child better than you do and nobody can tell you what your child wants more than he or she can.
Autism is comparable to a different culture. Perhaps we don’t do things the same way as the Autistic individual, but that doesn’t mean these things need to be changed. We need to stop looking at things that are different and try to fix them.
We need to be more accepting towards differences and embrace each individual for who he or she is.
By Dalia Shkedy – Ethan’s Mom