Please don’t deny my son his identity

This post was originally published on Respectfully Connected

A few months ago, this thing happened, and it’s been swirling around in my head since it happened, but now I think I finally have the words to explain why it upset me.

I overheard a conversation that my son had with someone in the disability services sector that went like this:

My son: “I’m Autistic”
(silence from the other person)
My son: “I’m also artistic”
Other person: “Oh! I would much rather hear about you being artistic than autistic.”

Here’s the thing: my son was trying to tell this person about himself, and he had told her about something that he thought would be of interest because he knows that being autistic sets him apart from the crowd – just like him being artistic does.

My son and I frequently discuss what being autistic means for us. It is an important part of who we are and how we experience the world. It is not the only thing that we are. We both are so much more than that, but it is no less important than any of our other attributes.

Denying my son the ability to talk about an important part of his identity communicates that that part of his identity is unimportant or even possibly shameful. I know that this interaction confused my son because he didn’t speak about his artistic abilities; instead, he started scripting about a familiar topic: Minecraft.

This was probably confusing for the person that he was speaking to, but had she allowed him to talk about him being autistic, she would have learned that he prefers to wear sunglasses because light hurt his eyes. She would have learned that sometimes he prefers to be in quiet areas. She would have learned that he finds the way he thinks, and the way other people think, is a truly fascinating thing for him. And, then, she would have learned that he enjoys art, music and moving around a lot. Instead, she learned a lot about Minecraft and very little about my son.

She denied my son’s identity with her silence, and she missed the opportunity to learn so much more about him.