Autism Appreciation by Jacob & Lisa


I asked my 14-year-old son Jacob to speak with me about autism awareness, neurodiversity and what we wish other people knew about navigating a world that’s been set up for neurotypical people. He is in eighth grade and was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder when he was eight.  

Jacob does not really like unexpected events, and at first he turned me down when I asked if he’d like to be a part of this blog entry. But about five minutes later he said, “You know what? I do want to do this. I’d like the chance to tell people about it. Let’s do it.” So here we go. 

What things can neurotypical people do to make a more inclusive world for neurodivergent people?  

Jacob: Some things neurotypical people can do include learning about autism and other diversities, listening to neurodivergent people’s concerns, and recognizing that not all neurodivergent people think and act the same way.  

Mom: Sometimes if an autistic or sensory-sensitive person is really bothered or afraid of something, all others see is the reaction and find it awkward and don’t even think to respond to the person’s distress, just to the disruptive reaction. If you came home and you screamed because there was a rattlesnake in your tub, everyone would understand and no one would blame you for not being cool with the snake. No one would try to convince you to just bathe with the snake. But if a neurodivergent person is afraid or startled and yells or covers their ears, people are often unsympathetic about the real distress that person is feeling. There is a lot of pressure to just suck it up and blend in. 

What do people misunderstand about autism? 

Jacob: A few common misconceptions about autism include the belief that all autistic people are non-verbal, the perception of autism spectrum disorder as a disease or defect, and the belief that all autistic people are savants or prodigies. 

Mom: Boy, that’s true! Jacob does very well academically and enjoys advanced classes and special projects. Almost always people will say, “Oh, but that’s common, right? Since he’s autistic?” Not particularly. He works hard, loves learning, and has his talents just like everyone else.  

What are the best aspects of living a neurodivergent life? 

Jacob: Some of the best aspects of being neurodivergent include being able to recognize patterns and connections that many neurotypical people often miss, as well as coming up with solutions to problems. 

Mom: One of Jacob’s brothers coined the phrase, “My favorite thing about Jacob’s autism is…” For me, it’s the constant surprises. He learns so much on his own and then he’ll keep it to himself until something comes up in conversation and it turns out Jacob knows all about it. He once wowed an engineer from NASA with his vast knowledge of the solar system. We’ve all learned that he’s usually right, so if you were about to correct him – look it up, you’re probably the one who’s wrong. 

And that brother? His favorite thing about Jacob’s autism is that Jacob ends social engagements by saying bye and walking off. That means the brothers get to walk off, too, and not hang around for long goodbyes at church or one more thing from relatives. Bye! 

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