This Girl’s Dance with Autism, Part 4
Jennifer O’Toole is a serious lover of shoes and glitter. She’s also the author of the Asperkids book series (2012–15), including the ASA’s 2014 Outstanding Literary Work of the Year. Jennifer sits on the Executive Board of the Autism Society of America, has been recognized as one of the “World’s Top Aspie Mentors,” is the winner of the Temple Grandin Global Contribution Award, has advised the President’s Council at the White House, addressed Their Royal Highnesses the Princess Sophie of England and Princess Marie of Denmark, and was named one of the 50 Most Influential Women in NC. Jennifer keynotes around the globe, is the mom of three (awesome) Asperkids, and proudly, is an Aspie, herself. This month, Smart Girls is very excited to have Jennifer share her story in a Four-Week Special Series for Autism Awareness Month.
Part 4: This Calls For A Rewrite.
Girls, we’ve been talking for a month now — so you know I believe in being real.
I know what it’s like to be a teen — a young woman — growing up certain of some talents, and equally certain that I’d be called out as a “fraud” at any moment. I know what it is to hate myself. To fake it. To gauge my worth by other people’s say-so.
From the time I was in elementary school, I began thinking about — analyzing — studying — what it meant to be a “successful” woman. I read and thought. And then read and thought some more. I read lots of biographies. I studied fashion. And you know what all that studying got me? Confused.
The instructions I was getting were mixed. They still are. Be “this” not “that” (except for sometimes do be “that” just don’t be too obvious about it). Magazines tell you how you’re supposed to look. Movies tell you what you’re supposed to say. Teachers and parents and “experts” tell you how you’re supposed to think. And behave. And feel.
And guess what? None of them are right. None of them. Because YOU ARE THE ONLY EXPERT ON BEING YOU.
“Alright, Jennifer,” I can hear you saying. “Sounds great, only what if I don’t feel like an ‘expert?’ What then, huh?”
Here’s the first truth from me to you:
NOBODY feels like an expert.
We each know our own most-secret doubts and mistakes and insecurities. And it feels like everyone can see the parts of us we’re most afraid to show.
In a lot of ways, we each live in our own little worlds — and we like those little worlds. But if we’re going to connect with others in the real world, the trick is to stop arguing about whose “miniverse” is right and who is wrong. Instead, we have to re-adjust our focus and learn to experience life together…starting with one simple word swap:
Quirks, misunderstandings, hurts, and blunders — courage, tenacity, fidelity, and joy — they are all part of being the kind of different we are. This world is as much ours as anyone else’s. More than that, this world needs our intensity, our wit, our creativity, our work, our ideas, our kindness….it needs us. Really. It needs you. And…
This whole “figuring yourself out” thing? It calls for a serious rewrite.
Ladies, this is the last installment of our series together. So I’m gonna cut to the chase. First, and foremost — if these article have touched your heart in some way, stop being scared of a label. They’re just words that identify what already IS. They do not transform one thing into another. Case in point? Label-maker meets drooly-smile and pink onesie:
Which leads us to this truth:
A “label” doesn’t make anyone an “Aspie” or “autistic” any more than declaring “It’s a girl!” caused you to be female.
And that label fear thing?
Come on. We all know it isn’t really fear of a word. It a fear of stigmas…of misunderstanding. And I promise, every single day in every way I knowhow, I’m working on undoing those, my friends. In the meanwhile, prepare to be surprised. When they fit, some labels — autistic, gay, newcomer, survivor — are more than helpful. They’re life-changing — effectively, efficiently gathering much-needed understanding and support with a simple word or two.
A lot of wonderful people with surprisingly open hearts, will listen, learn, and love you. And, sure. Others won’t get it. It’s okay to miss them. Just don’t lose yourself in the loss. Because, yes, in a lot of ways, “typical” is easier. To tell you anything less would be a lie. But guess what?
Typical means falling short of a goal that’s not meant to be yours anyway.
For us, “blending in” means not showing up. You are NOT typical, thank goodness. And that’s why, in a million subtle, abundant ways, YOU already are beautiful and strong.
Think you’ve messed up too badly to go on? Nope. Happily, you cannot actually die of embarrassment (I know — I am the lab rat). So expect to change. And fall. And get messy. That means you’re actually doing this “life” thing. If you’re going to “just be yourself,” you need to know that — just by showing up on this planet — you have permission to be an ever-changing, complicated, dynamic, MIGHTY BEAUTY. Once you believe that, once you get that, there is literally nothing that can stand in your way.
As this Autism Awareness (Acceptance — Awesomeness?!) Month comes to a close, I’d like to thank you for walking alongside me these last weeks — to invite you to fill yourself full of the resources it’s my honor to offer….and to give you this last gift. Of all the things I’ve written, it’s my favorite. And it’s meant just for you….
With love and belief in all that your tomorrows hold…xoxo, Jennifer
So — I have this idea.
And I was hoping you’d maybe give it a listen.
My idea is that people need to say — out loud
the nice things they usually just think
and keep to themselves.
Like, “Your laugh is awesome. It’s all bright and shiny and wonderful.”
Or, “I love your wild imagination…you make everything more fun.”
Or, “It’s nice being quiet with you.”
All those real bits that slip by…
Big things. Little things. All of it. It matters. Because you matter.
I don’t know why people don’t do that more often.
A candle doesn’t lose its fire
when it lights another candle.
Same thing goes for us.
Telling you the honest, wonderful things I see in you
doesn’t mean I’m less. And it doesn’t mean I’m more.
My success isn’t your failure. And yours isn’t mine.
There’s plenty of good to go around.
So, I thought I’d tell you about you.
Because…you’re kind of amazing
in a lot of ways.
And maybe you don’t see what I see.
I’m not talking about big, flashy stuff….although that’s great, too.
I’m talking about the little ways you crack open your heart -
even when you’re scared
and other people don’t understand why…
Because when you’re vulnerable like that…joy sneaks in…and you light up.
I’m talking about your mind.
I love how your whirring, busy brain is always curious.
Always wondering. And asking.
And then imagining.
Because that’s how you’ll change the world.
I’m talking about your kindness. The way
your heart hurts -
really hurts -
when the world is cruel to other
people or creatures.
Because I’ve noticed that the kindest hearts are often the ones
that have been hurt the most.
And the way you turn pain into love without even thinking
takes my breath away.
I’m talking about how everyone tells you just to be yourself
Then adds — “…only not like that.”
And I say, “Yes. Do it JUST like that.”
I’m talking about how maybe being opinionated and strong and bossy isn’t bad.
Maybe it just sounds nicer to say
But they end up being pretty much the same thing.
And you’re passionate and determined and ambitious and driven
about the things you love.
And it’s amazing to watch.
I’m talking about being beautiful.
But I’m not talking about a “thigh gap”
or straight teeth
or jean size.
I’m talking about being beautiful because you are
in ways that have nothing to do with whether someone else includes you
or picks you
or even likes you.
And you’re already beautiful. Now.
You’re beautiful in the way your voice changes when you talk about something you love.
You’re beautiful in the way your eyes crinkle when you look up at the sky
and feel small.
You’re beautiful in those secret tears you cry when you think you’re a mistake
instead of realizing you’re a miracle.
You’re beautiful in the way you fight and argue and refuse to give up on what you believe.
You’re beautiful in every way that you are not typical.
Yes. You’re beautiful, alright.
You’re the kind of beautiful that only gets bigger and better with time…
a work in progress
And even if you can’t see it yet,
And you will.
And together, we’ll make the world a more beautiful place to be
PLEASE gift yourself the gift of knowledge:
- Be sure to read all four-parts of “This Girl’s Dance with Autism,” as well as more of Jennifer O’Toole’s Smart Girl stories — we’re talking Sesame Street, Aspie Awesomeness, and Feminism (No Wrong Way to be a Girl).
- This series has gotten more Smartie engagement, shares, and “Loves” than any we’ve seen — so please thank the SMART GIRLS Team for their collaboration with Asperkids. Tweet Smart Girls, comment on their Facebook page, or leave comments below. They deserve a big round of applause — and be sure: your every word changes the world for ALL.
- If your heart was touched, then come feed your soul: explore “Girl Power Reboot” and ALL the videos, downloads, YouTube shows, and playlists bursting forth at Asperkids (It doesn’t matter if you’re a “kid” or if you have the “label”).
- Follow Jennifer on social media (click links in intro above) or Wikipedia.
- Stay in touch, ask questions, and proudly, be different — together. We’re here to support your journey however we can.
Photo credits. Featured Image, John Ash. Talk Bubble, Jennifer O’Toole. Baby with Label, imgr.com. It’s a Girl, Jennifer O’Toole. Woman on phone, Girl on Swing, photo, BigStock. Girl on Swing, Illustration, Anne-Louise Richards in “Sisterhood of the Spectrum.”
Excerpt from “Sisterhood of the Spectrum: An Asperger Chick’s Guide to Life” copyright Jennifer O’Toole, courtesy of JKPublishers.