Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Do You Know Autism, Or Do You Know Autism?

A long, long time ago, I studied French. I took it for many years, ending up with a Minor Studies degree in it.

Do I remember any? Un peu.

And that’s about it.

Well, not really. I can read it pretty well, but speaking it has become increasingly difficult. Over the years, I’ve discovered several words that just do not translate well into English. Words I wish we had in my native language, and which I translate (to French) in my own mind from time to time. Two of those words = one word in English. The English? “To know.” The French? “Connaître. Savoir.”

We use the phrases, “I know,” and “Do you know?” daily. But without context, those phrases cause confusion. For example, consider the phrase, “I know what you are going through.” That is typically followed by, “Thank you,” or even, “Do you?” There is knowledge of an intellectual sort as in, “You told me why you are having a bad day, so I now know it.” Then there is familiarity as in, “I know, because the same thing happened to me, and I understand.”

This is where the French comes in, and why I prefer it. The French use either savoir (for the former) or connaître (for the latter), and there is no doubt as to the meaning.

Many of us in the autism community feel the same way. Do you know (savoir) autism, or do you know (connaître) it? We tire of people claiming they “know” autism. That they “read about the struggles autistics face”. That so-and-so on TV has Asperger’s. But when push comes to shove, we are often left questioning, “…but do they really know it? They sure don’t seem to.”

Last night, my daughter opened up about gym class. She’s mainstreamed, and although she prefers for her peers not to know about her Asperger’s (think instamatic teasing, etc., despite the fact she is incredibly proud of being the “star” of a book about it), she does at times see herself as one of the “special kids” as the teens call it. She said that the “special kids – you know what I mean, Mom,” came to the gym to participate with her class. She said everyone was nice, but her peers seemed too soft with them. They weren’t giving them chances to fully participate. She thought they were being babied, as if they can’t “handle” whatever the game was at the time – and were never given a chance to fully try. And it made her frustrated. “How would you feel if you were one of them?” she questioned. “Wouldn’t you be upset? What if you wanted to be given a chance to play like the other kids? Sure, you might fall more, or drop the ball more, but wouldn’t you wanted to be treated just like everyone else? I mean…”

I bring this up as “we”, as a whole, need to go much, much farther than having a textbook knowledge of what autism spectrum disorders are. Why not try to mentally put ourselves in their shoes? We must not assume that everyone with autism is exactly like everyone else with autism. We are all individuals - autism or not. We must listen to the families who live under the same roof with it. We must look into the heart, the spirits of those who have it, and try our best to understand them, or if nothing else, see them as people with souls, just like us. For those of you unfamiliar, think how you would feel if someone treated you the same way you treat or talk about someone with autism.

There is someone “in there”. And they can hear you. And they have feelings. Please know that. (We are endlessly thankful for those of you who do.)

Nous devons le connaître .

We must “know it”.


  1. Thanks for writing this! I wish for the same thing everyday. For people to just understand in general, people are all so different and we may interpret and react to things differently-autism or not. Having a son on the spectrum has taught me so much patience when it comes to people altogether. But at the same time I get so frustrated even more when people don't understand & try to make me feel like he's a 'bad' kid b/c I never judge others, esp. children.

  2. Julie, it is so true what you wrote:"We must not assume that everyone with autism is exactly like everyone else with autism". We are all unique and that is a good thing!

  3. Je connais autism. Je sais autism aussi! Mais, je suis la mere d'une fille (14 ans) avec autism, et je suis aussi une professeuse a l'ecole.

    And that's about as far as my high school French goes! For those who took Spanish/German/Japanese or Vulcan, I am both the mother of a 14 year old daughter with autism, and a high school teacher.

    I agree, that it's one thing to know *of* autism, and another to understand the intricacies of autism, to live with it and advocate for fair treatment every single day. We can only hope and pray that more people will try and understand it as time goes by.