Christmas is a difficult time for me. As others become excited and engrossed with preparing to celebrate this special day, I am once again reminded of my differences and my inability to navigate life on my own steam. Life has left me behind as people get caught up with things and I recede into the background.
This year, things are even more complicated with what is happening to our dog, Togo. Recently, Togo had an operation to fix some ulcers in his eyes. He is fifteen, a fox terrier cross, picked up at the Lost Dogs’ Home over 14 years ago, at 4 months old. With time, we’ve known Togo to be lovable and loving with an open, curious mind, a wonderful addition to our family. Now with impaired vision, Togo stays put when put down. After circling around occasionally bumping into things, he whimpers until Mum picks him up and strokes him. Reassured, he sits and waits for more attention and his next feed.
Looking at Togo, I am reminded of my own situation. To live any decent sort of life, I am completely dependent on the willingness of my support network to cater to my needs on a constant basis.
With acquiring a means of communication via typing with support, my world has expanded exponentially. Using my keyboard or speech generating device, and with familiar communication partners, I am able to talk to people, to contribute to conversations and to make my mark. My hunger for social contact and for finding my place in the world has been whetted with growing skills in communication as well as in understanding people. I am able to get around, participate and socialise, even attend uni. I feel very lucky indeed.
But here’s the thing, like Togo, the things he needs are attended to by people around him only when they are ready, willing and able to sense those needs. With someone there to stroke him, talk to him, give him attention, Togo feels happy and safe. With my meagre skills in daily living, I am also dependent on my social support network. Even with a means of communication, I am not able to tell people my needs unless they are listening. It is this daunting fear about my inability to navigate my world that leaves me vulnerable, since it is not always possible to be acknowledged even by those closest to me.
I have learned to accept the curved balls life throws at me, and to be grateful that I am blessed with a wonderful support network. I have also learned to be patient and to do my best in putting efforts into building a bridge between me and others to enable the vital two way traffic to take place. On a positive note, I have become more aware of the necessity to develop skills to compensate for my lack. I have become more resilient in resisting the temptation to be stumped by petty concerns and setbacks. I have come to love words and have taken inspiration from the writings of others who have overcome challenges. To sum up, I would like to share a poem I penned on finishing high school:
Tim Chan, Oct. 2013
Autism took away my speech,
but gives me the will to learn to communicate.
Autism robbed me of control over my body,
but gives me access to the unlimited reaches of my mind.
Autism depleted my ability to be independent,
but leads me to trust in those who care for me.
Autism diminished my skills in relating to people,
but provides a circle of support from those who believe in me.
Autism reduced my understanding of the world as others see it,
but teaches me to appreciate the wonder in a water droplet.