|Ben Darth Vader playing the part of the villain.|
Those on the spectrum are said to struggle with theory of mind, which is, loosely translated, the ability to put oneself in someone else’s shoes.
It may be difficult for autistic individuals to understand the thoughts and feelings of others.
They may have difficulty picking up on body language and conversation cues.
But what about the other way around?
How skilled are we, those who are not on the spectrum, at putting ourselves in the shoes of those who are autistic?
We often don’t take the time to think about how fortunate we are when things come easy to us.
It’s easy then to take certain things for granted.
Things like having a conversation with someone.
Things like feeling comfortable in one’s own skin.
But what if such things were a daily struggle?
And what if instead of filtering out the little things happening around us, our brain allowed the entire world in. What if the floodgates were opened and our mind couldn't prioritize for us- so everything came barreling through to our awareness.
How much beauty would we see?
How much could we take before the pain of handling it all became too much for us?
Imagine sustaining that barrage of sensory information across minutes, hours, and days.
Imagine if your brain were like Google Images. What if, when you thought of the word “dog,” mental images of every breed you’d ever encountered flooded your mind.
Imagine if you thought in numbers and equations rather than sentences. Your brain thought like Google Maps and you could navigate to anywhere just by using your mind. You could visualize and manipulate large numbers in your head. You could see the beauty of the natural geometry around you in the nautilus shell, in the pyramids, in the architecture of buildings...
Imagine what an incredible gift and yet challenge it would be to navigate our world with such a unique mind.
And yet, imagine the struggle to not be able to pull out the words that you want to say, when you want to say them. Imagine the frustration of not being able to convey your thoughts and feelings to those you love, because you communicate through images or numbers or touch while the rest of the world communicates through words.
As a parent, I make decisions on behalf of my child every day.
And when I do, I try to take the time to think from his perspective and to ask for his perspective when I can.
Considering his perspective helps me know how to support him.
It may be building in time for breaks when we do homework.
It may be taking the time to push him on the swing once we get home, rather than starting into the housework right away.
It may simply be taking the time to hold him close and give him deep pressure hugs at the end of a big day, when he needs time to decompress.
Ben talks often about being a grown up. I think he believes that when he grows up, things will be easier.
I certainly hope this is true. I hope that by the time he grows up, he’ll have developed enough tools to navigate the world confidently and independently.
But he will still be autistic.
He will still see the world differently and feel the world differently.
Tonight as I tucked him into bed, he was talking Star Wars.
“I’m Ben Darth Vader. I'm on the Dark Side but I’m coming to the Light Side,” he told me yet again, as he tells me several times a day.
I’ve often wondered why he connects so deeply with villains, especially the complex ones that struggle with the forces of good and evil within them.
As I kissed him on the forehead, I leaned in and said, “You know that Ben Darth Vader is different from regular Darth Vader, right?”
“Why?” he asked.
“Because Ben Darth Vader has always been on the Light Side. He has kindness right here,” I said, pointing to his heart.
I think that Ben is starting to become aware that he experiences the world differently than others.
I never want him to see this as a weakness or a fault of his character.
I never want him to see his differences as bad or wrong or something to be sorry for.
I want him to be proud of who he is and the strengths he brings to the world.
This is why I try to see the world as he sees it.
This is why I try to help others understand his world a little better too.