Believe it or not, parents of autistic children get asked this a lot.
It’s hard to know how to reply, because if a person is genuinely curious, it’s nice to encourage dialogue, but they may be disappointed with the answer of “He takes 17 minutes to put on a shoe” or “She is adept at smearing poo”. I don’t think that’s the answer they would be expecting to be honest.
There is still the notion that if a child has a diagnosis of autism, they must have an incredibly high IQ or be a musical / mathematical / artistic prodigy.
It is true a proportion of people with autism are ‘savants’, that is, they are individuals with autism who have extraordinary skills not exhibited by most persons” (Autism Research Institute, 2017). However, this figure is thought to be in the region of 10%. Films like Rainman and Mercury Rising , while bringing attention to the wonderful abilities some children may have, can give people the inaccurate view that all our children are prodigies. This can be really disheartening for those of us who view trying on a different colour top as a real accomplishment. For the child who struggles with leaving the house, something as simple as going to the letter box is something worth celebrating.
Please try to remember that if you’ve met one child with autism, you have met only one child with autism.
It is a spectrum, with an amazing variation of permutations, differences and similarities.
By all means, celebrate the genius and the savants but don’t forget to commend the little boy who managed to make fleeting eye contact when he said ‘Hello’ today. And do marvel with me at the ability to make putting shoes on last nearly half an hour. All of our children are superheroes in their own special ways.
How many times have you been asked that question, and what’s your favourite response?
Edelston, Stephen M. ,2017, Autistic Savants, Autism Research Institute. https://www.autism.com/understanding_savants
© Peta Slaney, 2020, All Rights Reserved.