After a keynote at a college in Saint Louis and a quick trip to San Antonio to work a USAC .25 Gen Next series race my thoughts go back to the 5th and 4th grade I spoke to on Thursday. This isn't to take away from any other presentation I do, but the questions and statements that the age group of 4th and 5th graders asks me seems to stay with me longer and gives me so much to ponder.
During the questions segment a student stated, "I have to admit, and I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I think the form of autism you have is almost awesome and really interesting because your brain can do things mine can't." I've had parents, and even a police officer hint at these thoughts, but it was never stated so precisely but it as pure as that thought was a student in front of the student who asked the question, who very well might have been on the autism spectrum, simply said, "You're right but it's bittersweet."
When he said that I let the words hang in the air. How could I say it better, or worse? Also, how could I say anything at all because, while I mentioned that adults have hinted at that, what I talk about, would kind of be "cool," I was processing what this all meant.
As I give a presentation I'm in a mode that I can't fully describe or give justice to as I am fully conscious but I'm so in tune with what I'm doing it's effortless and it takes A LOT to jar me out of this zone and the initial question had done so. I never thought about the fact that what I describe could be considered enviable. I do mention the strengths I have and please don't get me wrong that I spend my entire presentation talking about all the difficulties; I think I do a good job of sharing the joys and hardships.
The words started to dissipate so I responded that, "bittersweet" might be one of the best words I've heard to describe it because yes, there are tremendous strengths that we can have. I talked about the joys of being within Kansas, my ability to hyper-focus and the potential advantages, and I spoke about how I believe being on the autism spectrum has always kept me sticking to my high ethics and morals. However, as I mentioned in the presentation, there can be extreme social hardships and sometimes we aren't even going to understand why we made others around us mad. We may be oblivious to the fact that our sometimes endless stream of obscure facts we know may make those around us irritated. We may not read into the fact that a person is upset, angry, or doesn't share the same interests as us. We may also have to endure more difficulties with sounds, lights, or other sensory issues.
When I wrapped up my explanation of bittersweet my mind was hard at work thinking that this could be the perfect example of the fact that, "life is always better on the other side of the wall." For those that are "normal" it might seem awesome to be able to think outside the box, have a photographic memory, or have certain subjects or tasks that are difficult for others come naturally for us. For those on the autism spectrum we can look over and wonder how people who don't know each other can converse with ease, or wonder how you aren't irritated to the point of distraction by a flickering light, or perhaps even wonder how you aren't driven to the point of extreme anger by a person breaking a simple rule. Either way you look life would seem better on the other side of the wall.
Is this all what it means to be human? We are all different regardless of autism spectrum or any other diagnosis including whatever normal is. And with that, if you're like me, you see others and think, "wow, they have it good!" while at the same time they may be looking back at you thinking the same thing. So yes, isn't this humanity at its finest; wanting to be more than we are? And when we do this our side of the wall, whichever side that is, is going to seem darker because the other side is just so much brighter. And I wonder if, in that moment when I was asked the question, and the other student answered the question for me, if both sides of the wall met for one moment and in that one brief moment I wonder if, perhaps, there were no walls and there was a moment of understanding that there are, in fact, no walls and that we are all different and at some point in time we all wonder and think that everyone else has it better which in turn, for that moment, made everyone normal.