As somebody who has been living with autism for 51 years and who has a son on the autism spectrum, I cannot help but want more for the community of which we are a part, considering the unique vulnerabilities and challenges we face. My hopes for our community come into sharp focus at this time, as we stand at the threshold of a new year. And not just any new year, but one that follows probably one of the most turbulent of our lifetimes.
It was my great fortune to have been raised by parents, both of them now deceased, who were wise enough to drill into my head the importance of building a strong sense of self and of learning how to love who you are. Thankfully, I knew that they were worth listening to and bought into what they taught me. As such, my wishes for the community in 2021, and every year going forward, revolve around these essential endeavors. True happiness requires at least a measure of self-esteem, and we only have one life to live. Let’s do what we can to make it fulfilling and happy.
• Understand that you are beautiful just the way you are! Love who you are and be who you are, at all costs, no matter what types of adversity you face and how different you perceive yourself to be. To be different is to be unique and special.
If you are not already there, I have found that the process of learning how to love yourself is greatly facilitated by adopting realistic expectations of yourself and others, and by accepting if not embracing your autism profile. Easier said than done, but it can and has been accomplished. All of us have our imperfections and there is nothing wrong with that. To be imperfect is to be human, so let’s accept the imperfections, and in so doing, accept our humanity.
Accept that there is nothing wrong with not being able to satisfy or please everybody. It is simply an impossibility, so try not to expect this of yourself, and try not to expect everybody you know or meet to like you or to pay attention to you. Keeping your expectations of yourself and others down to Earth protects you from feeling inadequate or let down, both of which compromise the process of self-esteem building. We all win sometimes and we all lose sometimes. Nothing to be ashamed of!
Lastly, feeling good about yourself becomes easier when you realize that autism is not all about challenges and adversity. It also brings valuable talents to many on the spectrum and probably to you as well. There are fine and performing artists, scholars, Nobel Prize recipients, best-selling authors, celebrities, CEO’s of companies and at least one Time Person of the Year who are autistic. Creativity, “outside the box” thinking, analytical skills and a capacity to focus on a task for long periods of time are some of the more prevalent abilities among folks on the spectrum.
• Grow your inner strength. If you made it through 2020, you are probably stronger than you realize. Acknowledge your own inner strength and use it to see yourself through life’s hardships. Self-love and inner strength go hand in hand. As you work to enhance one of these, the other is enhanced at the same time.
You have survived several months of fallout from the worst health crisis the world has seen in a century. You have endured extreme levels of toxicity and divisiveness inherent in our political and cultural discourse. And though you may feel as though the challenges and adversity you face imply that you are less than strong, in reality, by plowing ahead through these struggles, you have become stronger. Let 2021 be the year of newly discovered and greater inner strength!
• Rise above the bullying. Inner strength is your ally in this endeavor. You can use it to refuse to let any bully dictate how you live your life or force you to be somebody you are not. Nobody deserves to be bullied and nobody has the right to bully others.
It helps to understand that bullies are also human, that they may be facing hardships that account for why they act the way they do and that they may not be receiving the help they need and deserve to change how they treat others. Furthermore, one or more of the bullies you have encountered may himself have been bullied and is trying to compensate for this, although regrettably in the worst possible way.
Acknowledging the darker side of humanity and the fact that bullying is sadly inevitable because of it is also important. Understanding these realities enables you to be on guard and to fortify your defenses in the event that you and a bully cross paths down the road.
• Do not buy into the myth that vaccination causes autism. I have already heard this mentioned in the media with respect to the COVID-19 vaccine and it has only begun to be distributed! There is no truth to the association some make between vaccines and autism in that this sentiment has been debunked more than once by studies conducted by legitimate scientists and doctors. Nonetheless, many continue to believe the connection is valid.
Why is the dismissal of this falsehood one of my hopes for the autism spectrum community in 2021? Because to be autistic and to buy into it can be injurious to self-esteem. It does not help to have society minimize what is a core aspect of who you are as being a side effect of a vaccine. Autism is an alternative neurology. Simply put, the autistic brain is wired differently than that of non-autistic individuals. It is not a medical condition caused by a vaccine.
Considering how politicized the coronavirus pandemic has become, that hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine will be administered in 2021 in the United States alone and that many already have doubts about its efficacy and safety, I worry that the stage has already been set for the perpetuation of a fictional association between the COVID-19 vaccine and autism. My hope is that you rise above the misinformation. Do not let it get under your skin.
• Get help if you or those who care about you feel that you could use it. Doing so is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it is a sign of strength in that it shows that you have the courage to change! Had it not been for my parents’ efforts towards me and the folks who have helped me over the years, happiness and success would certainly have eluded me, without question.
Wherever you may be, assistance is available, if not locally, then remotely. These include organizations committed to helping folks on the spectrum, autism resource centers (ARC’s) and a variety of clinicians and therapists. Access http://www.samfarmerauthor.com/resources for information on a few of these types of resources in the community.
I wish you and those you care about nothing less than the best in 2021. Make it a great year!
Originally posted on TheHill.com.