It's funny how you can be going about your day, any ordinary day, and get knocked up side the head with a life lesson completely out of nowhere. It often comes from the unlikeliest of places and happened to me today at the dentist office. I, someone who lives with autism in my life day in and day out, someone who has read and continues to read a bajillion autism related articles, blog posts, books, watches videos, advocates, who GETS autism....I got schooled by my dentist, whom I love, about autism. It was a lesson that took me by surprise, which was why it was so powerful and has had such a profound affect on me.
It started out as any other dental cleaning appointment. At the end while talking to the doctor, I mentioned that I needed to schedule an appointment for my son, who is autistic, to have some teeth extracted. I asked him some questions about the procedure and most of my questions were based on the fact that my son is autistic. He was very polite, answered my questions, and walked me up to the front desk where patients check out. While I'm going about my business scheduling future appointments, he steps away for a bit then walks back over.
The next few sentences that came out of his mouth have been playing on repeat in my head all day, and will likely in days and weeks to come. He asked, "What is autism, exactly? It is a diagnostic code that doesn't really say a whole lot about a person". Of course, I was caught off guard and started describing some of the classic commonalities that are associated with autism, like speech delay, levels of social ineptitude, etc. As soon as I stopped talking, I knew that this very intelligent, kind, and successful man was not looking for me to rattle off the list of 'what autism is'. I have a feeling that he knows exactly what it is. Very well. And perhaps, that is why we get along so well.
What did I learn today? Well, the old saying, 'don't put the cart before the horse' came to mind, but in an entirely different context. The cart in this analogy is autism and the horse is, well, my son. I do not need to preface every task, interaction, communication, procedure, relationship that my son is a part of or involved in with autism. You see, while the cart can sometimes explain or shed light on a situation for the benefit of someone else's understanding, it most often does not benefit him. The contents of the cart do not define him. It is only a facet of the multitude of parts that make up this awesome dude.
I've got to learn to let the horse lead the way. In other words, presume competence in all things. Always. If I don't, then who will? His dentist, for starters.