The second question I am inevitably asked when someone learns my son is Autistic, is:
What’s his superpower?
That’s because most people only know what the media tells them about Autism. (I can’t really fault them for that. I fault the media.)
I mentioned last week that portrayals of Autism in the media tend to only focus on the shiny and exciting. They post the feel-good stories about Autistic people who have incredible talents and have “overcome” their diagnosis.
Dual Diagnoses exist frequently in mental health. I, for example, have a dual diagnosis of Anxiety and Depression. It’s not one or the other, it’s both. Sometimes Depression drives, sometimes Anxiety drives, but both have a major impact on my life and how I interact with the world.
The same is true of Autism Spectrum Disorder. There can be many dual diagnoses. This post only touches on a few.
A very common dual diagnosis with Autism is Sensory Processing Disorder. Not all people with a Sensory Processing Disorder are Autistic, and not all Autistics have a Sensory Processing Disorder. But many people are diagnosed with both at the same time.
Another common dual diagnoses is Autism + ADHD. Again, not all people with an Autism diagnosis have ADHD, and not all people with an ADHD diagnosis have Autism. But there are many people who have both.
One more example is Hyperlexia, which is a fascination with letters or numbers that usually presents as a child teaching themselves to read at a very young age, or being capable of math calculations well above their age and grade level. Some people associate this with Autism and think that all Autistics are good with letters and/or numbers, but once again, it is a case of some are, some aren’t. Overlap.
And then, there is a much more rare combination: Autism + Savant Syndrome. By rare, I mean quite literally one in a million. Savant Syndrome is the diagnosis that gives a person a “superpower.”
That is not to say that many Autistic people do not have wonderful talents and abilities. They are, after all, still human. And human beings display an amazing kaleidoscope of gifts. A child on the Spectrum can be very talented in music, engineering, mathematics, statistics, or business, or any other talent that exists, but that doesn’t mean that they are a one in a million talent that surpasses the rest of humanity. It means they had a natural gift, and then honed it with years of practice and patience. Let’s give credit where credit is due. Autistic people work hard for their success. Harder than the average person. Because they have to overcome so many communication, social, and sensory barriers on top of practicing their passion.
Not all children with an Autism diagnosis are child prodigies. And I think it’s unfair to expect them to be.
Last week I wrote this about my son:
My son has a superpower. Not a savant one that will get made into a movie someday. His power is in his unshakable determination.
My son never gives up.
My son gets back up every single time life knocks him down.
My son shows us his personality every day, even though he has to break through a labyrinth of communication barriers to do so.
My son is sensitive to others, and can always be found sitting next to the person who is struggling most in the room, sharing his teddy bear with them.
Today I would like to add some more:
My son has the superpower of surviving and even thriving in a world that was not made for him.
My son has the superpower of navigating a culture and language that is foreign to him, and yet still finds his way.
My son has the superpower of refusing to be bitter about living in a world where he already has to give so much, and then people expect a “superpower” on top of it.
My son is my hero.
No additional powers needed.
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