So today is, of course, World Autism Awareness Day.
As you might also be aware if you happened to look at Google’s home page today, it’s also the birthday of Hans Christian Andersen, author of numerous well-known folktales. Among many other stories, he wrote “Thumbelina,” “The Little Mermaid,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes”… and, of course, “The Ugly Duckling.”
“The Ugly Duckling” is a story that Andersen himself has admitted was based on his own experiences growing up. And it’s always resonated with me as well, as an autistic living in a neurotypical world. Despite all efforts to be accepted, I’ve never quite felt like a
duck neurotypical; I only truly felt free, free to be myself, when I learned of the autism spectrum, when I learned that I behaved and perceived things differently because I was different.
Think about it. How many times do we see autistic people described as broken neurotypicals, rather than as individuals with their own distinct thought patterns and processing styles? How many times do we see people trying to make their autistic children behave like them, rather than letting them exhibit entirely harmless behaviors that just happen to be trademarks of autism?
And isn’t it all a bit like expecting a swan to look and act like a duck, when it is, in fact, a shining example of a swan?
Though it may seem a bit strange to think of a fairy tale as a shining example of autism awareness, it does seem as if people could learn a lot about it from “The Ugly Duckling.” And it amazes me how many people haven’t even considered that analogy.