A side effect of the work I partake in includes the delight of gaining glimpses into the perspectives of others. Therapy fosters a space that allows for a therapist to join with someone on their journey, even if only for a moment. Some days, I feel like I have the secret keys to a time traveling machine, serving as an empathetic perception traveler, weaving in and out of varying realities that grace my office. It’s a neat and often humbling opportunity.
Some of the perspectives I find myself uniquely fond of are the realities of those on the Autism Spectrum. These are notoriously the most misunderstood perceptions out there. I often normalize the challenges for parents in connecting with their Autistic loved ones. Metaphorically, I have found the particular “key” to use when stepping into the perspective of those on the spectrum have a password that must first be cracked before gaining access to the key.
This is where I jump in.
Instead of demanding the password, I embrace unconditional positive regard and simply insert myself as an observer. I outwardly recognize the privilege that I have identifying as neurotypical and the honor it is to be invited into their reality. Here, the pressure is alleviated to “mask” and the authentic human that sits before me begins to peek through their defenses that are vital to their internal safety.
As this incredible soul begins to peer around their “masks”, I begin to listen for the soft notes of their tempo, their language, the distinctive notes that color their experiences. Quiet and hesitant at first, I gleefully and humbly listen, cherishing the moments I join with these clients. I hold space for the pain, the loneliness, and the long-held grief that is a side effect of being misunderstood. I empathetically jump into the topics that keep their soul alit despite the mountains of challenges. I immerse myself in the music of their perceptions.
Then, ever so magically, I begin to access the password to connection and fostering nonjudgmental spaces. I take these passwords, put it through my therapeutic translator, and later communicate the messages and the experiences my client’s struggled to convey with the world whose tempo just does not make sense. Try as they might, the ability to settle into the neurotypical world escapes them. Now, the tables have turned and suddenly these resilient individuals are now the teachers instead of the students. The empowerment of this unlocking still dazzles my soul when I bare witness to it.
There is so much to learn from a perspective that differs from our own.
Different is just different. Not bad. Not broken. Just different.
Those on the Autism Spectrum are unabatedly aware of this. While I will not try and speak for anyone, it is typically the tempo of the neurotypical world that colors “different” with negativity. Those with Autism are plagued with the monstrous task of learning to function to the notes of a reality that is far too unfitting and unyielding. They are told from a very young age their “different” is wrong, is sad, is something to be pitied and looked down upon. Where in the world is the empowerment in that?
Something that I listen to often is the silenced plea to have others let those with Autism lead the tempo from time to time. To join in their worlds. To empathically recognize they may never “get it” but their humble recognition of a reality that is different than theirs can still have some good parts. That joy, love, and enjoyment is still very much a reality, it just looks and feels different within the tempo they experience life in.
Embrace the many tempos that individual perceptions dance to. Lean into the melodies and recognize that different is just different. Novelty and differences can lead to connection, if only we bare witness to the soft notes that accompany them.
Embrace the melodies that are different than your own.
Then, prepare for the onslaught of connection to those whose tempos can finally find a place in this world.