Autism Spectrum Disorders, hope and positive thinking - a personal story by an adult on the autism spectrum


Why do sad things happen to people? Why do people have Autism, Asperger's syndrome, or an intellectual disability, or a chronic illness? It has always been important for me to make sense out of life, what it all means and the reason for these things happening.


What does it all mean? How can I work out a “reason” for my particular disorder? When I ask myself ‘Why do these things happen to the people they do happen to’, I find a renewed insight into the randomness of life. These things happen because they do.

My disorder is mine, and I am the only one who can deal with it. I can choose to let it drag me down, or I can choose to think differently about it. I choose to be my own reference point for how it affects me, and I choose to be my own reference point for living with it and moving forward. The meaning is to be found in what I now do with it and how I live my life with it.

Someone I know maintains that spirituality is an important component of the healing process. With this in mind, the meaning of my experience depends on my awareness of a transcendental or spiritual reality that complements the daily reality of my life. Together they form a whole - the “horizontal and the vertical”, if you will.

Ira Progoff, a Jungian writer and teacher, exhorts us to look for integration in the darkest moments. This has been one of the most helpful bits of advice I've ever had. And this morning I learned that Flemish painters like Rubens, Van Eyck and Rembrandt used to paint their canvas black and only then start on the beauty of their colorful creations. What a great metaphor to point out a way ahead!

It is during our darkest, most troubling moments that we can grow and develop the skills we need for the moment, and onwards. Discouragement can happen so easily, and yet I can learn to discover opportunities, and reach out for them and take hold of them.

Once, quite a long time ago, I was sitting in a darkened auditorium, and I became aware of a dragonfly beating its wings against an upper window. The dragonfly battered and beat against the clear glass, and I became absorbed with its plight. I wanted to shout out “Come down here, fly out the door and be free”. But the dragonfly answered my inner shout, “No, it’s too dark there. This is where the light is, and freedom. If only I can get past this which I can’t see, but only feel.”

“Come down, dragonfly. Don't die up there because of the brightness and light. The light is deceptive: it will kill you. The light is here, in the darkness.”

But the dragonfly continued in frantic fighting. As I became more and more caught up with the drama of a dragonfly trying to escape into the light, I became, in a sense, that dragonfly. I fight the same impenetrable barrier in my attempts to stay in the deceptive light. The lure of light can be part of our desire to have things as they were. The terrible cost to succumbing to this is a kind of exhaustion. The paradox is that the light is in the depth of what appears to be darkness. I know I succumbed to the false light of the upper windows, which in my case was wishing I could have my old life back.

This is a particularly Australian paradox as well: the regeneration after a bush-fire, the plethora of wildlife after a drought has broken, and the flowers in the desert after a storm. It just seems part of the big picture that many seeds can only germinate after enduring a fire. We all can think of many other examples. Many species of frogs and fish lie dormant in the drought affected mud-caked river bed until the river flows once more.

According to his own testimony, Victor Frankl, who survived three years at Auschwitz and other Nazi prisons, survived largely because he learned that in confrontations with unavoidable suffering, there is no way out but through the darkest Centrex of a painful experience. He had no choice on facing this suffering or not, but he could still choose how he reacted to the unavoidable suffering.

Throughout my journey, I've come across many people who feel somewhat damaged by life. If they were given a way to talk about it, they might say they were beating against a window pane - it all looked okay, but somehow it turned ugly.

For many of us with a disability of one kind or another, the suffering has been transforming. The tragedy is that often the transformations have been towards the ugly rather than the beautiful. I look around and realize that most balance and well-being is costly one way or another, and that to be transformed is one of the most costly of all. To take oneself and one’s ongoing “journey” as the most serious of all tasks is what I discover in living.

There was a phrase in a movie from some years ago, Dead Poets’ Society, “carpe diem” - seize the day! Grab hold of the opportunity! The question is “How do I do that?”
I guess the first thing for me to do is to recognize that opportunities of all kinds present themselves regularly. I want to remain open to their possibilities. I remember the words of Tony's song in West Side Story, Something’s Coming:

Could be, who knows?
There’s something due any day; I will know right away,
Soon as it shows.

The next thing for me is to heed the advice of the ancient Greek philosopher, Epictetus, who said something like “It’s not the things themselves that trouble us, but the thoughts we have about those things”.

I can’t change my disability, or you, or the atmospheric conditions that lead to bush fires, but I CAN change the way I think about those things. I can throw a pity party and feel sorry for myself, or I can simply get on with living, build an optimism for the future, and communicate this optimism to others.


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An adult looks at the role of hope and positive thinking in dealing with Autism and other disabilities as adults