You look may look at my son and see a child with autism. Or you may look at my son and think he doesn't look autistic at all.
But when I look at him all I see is his bright toothy smile, his infectious giggle and the long locks of brown hair that he hides behind when he talks to people, I see my son!
(Who also happens to be autistic).
One of the wonders of humanity is that two people can look at something and see very different things, it's all a matter of perspective.
You could see a hurdle where I see a challenge
You may see sadness where I can feel joy
You may see symptoms whereas I see strength over adversity
You may see weakness where I see bravery
You may see a puzzle where I see wonder
You may see a label where I see my son
If all you see is the label when you look at him, then you are missing out on so much!
But this is the complex world that my son has to navigate his way around. And as his mother, I had to learn how to support him to make sense of it all.
But how could I do that when we live in a world in which people's opinions differ so vastly, and their past experiences shape their interactions with him? How could I understand how he feels and help him make sense of this crazy world, and help others to see him for who he really is?
I had to change the way I viewed my sons' world. The ups and downs, the highs and lows, and the challenges he faces daily. Not to mention the inner strength and talents he has within.
I had to change my perspective, and step into his shoes to see the world as he sees it...
"You see people can just think that I just choose not to leave the house, and I am a recluse. But imagine a world in which complex interactions, and going beyond the safety of my house floods me with all-consuming anxiety that can make me feel physically sick. Now can you understand why stepping outside is so daunting for me sometimes mum?"
"People can think I don't understand what they are saying, so they talk over me or ignore me completely. However try to imagine how it feels to struggle following the ebb and flow of conversations. Not knowing how and when you are meant to respond, and what people's facial expressions actually mean. It's no wonder that I avoid conversations with people who don't know me very well."
"People think I have no sense of humour or can't take a joke. But instead try to imagine living in a world where people say things they don't really mean and make jokes about things that just don't make sense to me. It's not that I don't have a sense of humour, I am really funny and make people laugh every day. In fact my mum says I have a giggle that is infectious (although I don't know how because laughs can't be infectious can they?)"
"People think I want to control things, or pester you all day asking question after question. But for a second just picture how it feels not be able to predict what is going to happen next, and how out of control this would make you feel. And maybe then you will realise why I feel the need for control or routine."
"If I struggle to see the bigger picture of what's happening around me and seem like I am in my own world. Just remember that my world is rich and full of intense experiences. I see and feel things so vividly that sometimes it can be hard for me to switch my focus to anything else."
"If people think I am rude or that I don't care about other people's feelings. Just try and remember that to me people's rules are unwritten, confusing and mysterious. Imagine not being able to understand how other people feel, what they could be thinking or even that they are giving me clues about their emotions by their body language. It's not that I don't care, I just don't experience emotions like you do."
How would you feel if you had a really creative mind full of amazing ideas but no one recognised your potential just because you didn't have the words?
How would you feel if you had so much love to give, but people didn't know because they didn't enter your world to feel it for themselves?
How would you feel if you could see the beauty in the things other people ignored and people dismissed the things you were passionate about?
How would you feel if people wanted to change you, and said that the things you like to do weren't socially acceptable?
How would you feel living in a world that doesn't recognise the potential that lies within you because of your label?
Imagine... just for a minute put yourself in his shoes.
How frustrating it must it all be at times for him?
If people don't learn to see things from a different perspective; my son's perspective, then they will never see the wonderful talents that lie within him. They will never see beyond the challenges he faces and the labels he carries, to view what he has to offer the world.
And this is why I do what I do. This is why I fight so hard to raise awareness and understanding.
To open the window on people's perspective and blow away the cobwebs of ignorance. So that my son can hopefully live in a world that is far less confusing, much more aware, and has a greater level of acceptance than ever before.
It's all a matter of perspective.