Saturday 14 April 2018

Autism Acceptance Month 2018 Day 13: L is for Love

BSL: love

L is for Love

This word was suggested by a number of AoW page followers; thank you to Tammy, Eileen, Katharina and Charlotte.

Autistics love, same as NTs. There is a stereotype that we are cold and incapable of feeling love (it's an old one but it persists in some places, much to our frustration), but it is utter rubbish. Theoretically I suppose it is possible for an autistic person to not feel love, but that has nothing to do with autism. This myth needs to die. And be buried deep. And decompose until there is no longer anything to suggest that it exists.

Many autistics experience emotions deeply and intensely; although for many NTs the phrase "I love you so much it hurts" is figurative for the purpose of emphasis, for a lot of autistics, it literally does hurt. That can sometimes be overwhelming! It's something I've experienced on a number of occasions in my 33-so-far years on this planet and I anticipate experiencing it again in future.

One thing that saddens me deeply and hurts every time I see it, is in autistics-and-parents groups on Facebook, on parent blogs, online articles, etc, when parents say things like:

"How can I tell if my non-verbal child loves me?"
"It breaks my heart thinking that s/he will never say the words 'I love you' to me."
"I just want to cry when other people's children say 'I love you' because mine never will."

Society's narrative is that speech is the be-all and end-all, that someone can't possibly express things in any way other than speech. That. Needs. To. Change. Why? Because it's utterly false and society needs to wake up to this.

There are many, many ways to express love. The spoken method is not at the summit of ways to do this, and the emphasis on this being the optimal, ideal method needs to go. Now. It sends the message that speech is the only valid or most meaningful form of communication, which can be incredibly hurtful and counterproductive. History has demonstrated that the emphasis on speech above all has been devastating for the Deaf community in terms of education, communication and socioeconomics; it is still experiencing the fallout from the 1880 Milan conference now, in 2018.

So much communication is non-verbal/non-spoken. All communication is equally valid and one should not be seen as more important, valid or meaningful than another. So what if your autistic child or an autistic adult in your life is nonspeaking? They have so many other methods of communicating it and they should be embraced and welcomed.

I sometimes struggle to communicate through speech, particularly when tired, stressed, in pain, ill, overwhelmed. My brain does not always work in English. That does not stop me from expressing and communicating love in other ways; the people who know me understand and accept that, so it's all good. This is what we ask for: acceptance as we are.

Thinking about it, I rarely tell my parents in words that I love them. I can't remember the last time my clearly-autistic father told me that he loves me. But they know that I love them because I show it in different ways.

It can be much easier said than done in a society that places so much value and emphasis on speech, but don't let the world convince you that it's heartbreaking and devastating if your child doesn't, can't and may never vocalise "I love you" because I can guarantee that they have a long list of other ways of showing it. It is not the end of the world if you never hear those words from them and stop forcing the issue. It's not fair on either of you.

Instead, listen with your eyes, body and heart to the other ways love is shown, and accept these expressions of love, because it is shown in so, so many ways other than words.

We show love through our faces - the expressions may not be what you are familiar with or conventional according to NT standards, but they are our expressions.

We show love through our bodies, by hugs, touches, gestures, movement, walking beside you, holding your hand.

We show love through sign language, Makaton, AAC, FC, PECS.

We show love through our eyes, by the way we look at you.

We show love through our behaviour.

We show love through our actions.

We show love through our hearts.

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