Happiness is something that everyone searches for in life. But when you reach the point in your life in which you can truly feel and believe you’ve found it, it’s a very sweet moment. After being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in October of 2007 I began the grieving process. What’s interesting is I was 22 years old. I know that there are parents who aren’t much older than I was at that point when they receive a diagnosis for their child.
From talking to parents I know that there are many similarities in the grieving process I experienced to that of the many young mothers and fathers grieving their child’s new diagnosis. But I also know there are many differences.
I was reading an article last night that said the grieving process for parents of a newly diagnosed child with autism can take up to 10 years. That seems like a long time, but we you look at the depth of what we’re dealing with, it really doesn’t seem like that long at all.
For me it’s been 5 years. I feel I am just to the point of officially moving out of the grieving process. I finally just embrace it and get it! Not only do I embrace it — I love autism. You see autism, or any other disability, is exactly what we make of it. When we first get a diagnosis we begin reading and many of us (including myself) take to the internet to do some research to find out exactly what we’re dealing with.
We spend so much time reading about things we can’t do or things our children won’t be able to do, it’s crazy! How could we not develop negative attitudes and feel depressed about the rest of our life or of our children’s lives? If we read and believe and focus on all the negative information, then we’re going to be desperate for a cure or for a little bit of hope. I don’t recall finding many positive things about autism the first time I searched the word.
I quickly developed a negative outlook and negative opinion about life. I thought I was defeated and my life was over because I had this autism thing. I didn’t have any family support and had no friends at the time. I was alone and desperately wanted to fit in.
In the next few years I had so many ups and downs — more downs than ups. I couldn’t find the positives in life or about autism. Sure, I heard some positive stories of people like Temple Grandin or Stephen Shore and many other people on the autism spectrum, and I thought, “Man if only I could be like them.”
You see, the difference between myself now and myself during the grieving process is “what I’m doing with my life.” I now have a saying I live by “Be the verb, not the noun.” I released books in 2010 about my life with autism. I thought, “surely everyone would want to read them just because I had autism”. I was a guy with Autism, so of course everyone who knew someone with autism would want to read my books.
I quickly became frustrated when things didn’t take off like I wanted them to. I gave away free books and even paid a few people to read my book because I so desperately wanted people to “get me”. I was still very much in the grieving process and I wanted others to save me and make me feel better.
I was just a guy with autism. But today I’m a guy with Autism who’s doing something amazing with his life. I’ve had a huge attitude change. I think for a long time I expected people to embrace me and want to be my friend just because I had autism. I thought people would like me because I had autism. I guess I was living in a make believe world I had created. Yes, you could say I wanted people to feel sorry for me for a long time, as I was in the grieving process.
But people don’t like people just because they are a noun — just like you wouldn’t like a person just because they have autism, or you wouldn’t like a person just because they are a teacher. You like a person based on what they are doing with the noun. You won’t remember a teacher as just being a teacher. You’ll remember the teacher who called you into her office one morning to ask how your life was going.
People don’t like Temple Grandin just because she has autism. They like her for what she’s done and what she’s accomplished in life with autism.
The point is, during the grieving process I was just being the “noun” I wasn’t being the verb. When you start being the verb you then automatically end up with some adjectives and adverbs that people notice along with the verb.
What I needed to escape the grieving process was hope. For a long time I really wanted a friend whom I felt like would be around for a very long time and who would stick with me; a friend who would accept me for who I was and would be understanding to some of my challenges regarding autism.
Typically, in my past I’d have a friend for a month or two and then I’d push them away. But now I have a friend, Heather, who has been with me for almost a full year! We had some issues and I almost pushed her away as well, but we were able to get through that and now we’re great friends.
Heather and I both wear friendship bracelets now. It’s more than just a bracelet to me. It’s a reminder and symbol of how I was able to make a real friend and leave the grieving process behind. Now that I am out of the grieving process and am healing I’m able to do amazing things with my life. I’m able to communicate so much of what I experience to others and help them understand autism a little more.
The hope that has allowed me to leave the grieving process has put those verbs and adjectives into my daily life! I now know that I will not be remembered as a guy with autism; I’ll be remembered as a guy with autism who did something awesome with it!
This applies to everyone in life but to me it is what helped me get through the grieving process and find that hope and begin healing. It started with a true friendship! Friendship is important. The key to making more friends and having meaningful friendships is to be more than just a noun, be the verb, then you’ll see adjectives and adverbs in your life and that is what others will like about you.
Don’t expect someone to just like you for being the “noun” learn to become the verbs!
For me that’s what has changed my life regarding autism. If you’re a parent you must do this as well. You’re not just the parent to a child, you’re a parent to the child that did something awesome. Then you must also help your child comprehend this concept from an early age as well! It’s not about being a noun, it’s about the verbs!