My son, Tomas, is on the autistic spectrum. I wanted to share some thoughts on this today, World Autism Awareness Day.
Difference is inevitable in nature and in life. Difference is not just inevitable -- it's also good. It makes our ecosystems evolve, it makes our societies grow and change and it makes us, as individuals, adapt and become stronger.
Understanding and appreciating difference is a sign of strength. Societies that include difference benefit from every bit of creativity going, and become more prosperous and more resilient. So, too, do people.
Over time, the culture of Brazil and of the UK has evolved to understand this. Where once women were too "different" to vote or to have any political rights, we now recognize that being female is not a handicap. Neither is having a different skin color or different religious beliefs or sexual identity. Until quite recently, being left-handed was considered an "abnormality," and parents and teachers were very concerned about how to correct it.
This fear of difference is not so surprising if you consider that most people used to live in very small and very homogenous groups. Danger was everywhere, and homogeneity was a way to protect the group. We -- and especially those of us in our international environment -- now live in a big world. We travel, both physically and online, everywhere. We realize that people from different countries may look different and they may do things differently, but that we also share a whole lot.
At the same time, we still often have an instinctive wariness about difference -- especially when we are in groups and when we are still developing our own identity. Our own insecurities can limit us.
People with autism may do things differently. They may look different; they may not. They feel very much the same as you: shy, hopeful, sad, in and out of love, happy, lonely, excited, tired, fed up, interested, bored, whatever. They may show it differently sometimes; others may not. But who has not felt sometimes shy at walking into a room filled with strangers? Who has not felt overwhelmed by a party, a shopping mall, that's too noisy and too crowded?
People with autism are similar to some people and dissimilar to others. "Autism" does not explain who someone is. You can have autism and be kind or mean, funny or boring, clever or stupid.
Being autistic, like being left-handed, says very little about who we are. To find that out, you have to actually get to know people. To quote a saying, "a normal person is just someone who you still don't know all that well..."
A version of this post appeared on HuffPost Brazil.
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