For the last few weeks, I have been both excited and terrified at presenting an hour long introduction training on autism to my coworkers. There are several reasons for the fear: I haven’t been in the company long, I barely know my coworkers because we are rarely in the office, and because I tend to procrastinate. The biggest fear, however, is the fact that my view on autism is a bit different from the current trend.
In the training, I will not call it a disease or disorder. I prefer the word condition (if that). I understand that this statement alone could get me on the wrong side of some, but if that offended you, you should probably stop reading now. To me, autism is a state of being and experiencing the world, not a disease that must be eradicated as soon as possible. I think autism is seen by too many as dealing with a broken clock that needs to be fixed. In my eyes, we just need to understand that it is a different type of clock…but it is still a clock, and a working clock at that.
A former supervisor of mine from years ago gave the team the “Trip to the Netherlands” story: Imagine you are getting ready for your first trip to France. You are beyond excited, and you are planning it to the letter…where you’ll go, what you’ll see, what food you have to try, etc. Finally, the day comes and you hop on the plane, almost giddy. Of course it is a long flight, so you fall asleep. When you wake up, you sit dumbfounded as the attendant declares “Welcome to the Netherlands!”
You immediately go to the ticket counter after you deplane; there has to be a mistake. You spend the next hour or so fussing with several people, but there is no use. You are in the Netherlands, and you’re not getting to France anytime soon. Somewhat begrudgingly you start to explore the region. As you travel, you begin to see amazing things in this country: the landscapes, the food, the people. You find yourself enjoying more of the experience than you thought you would. While it was a bit of a shock at first, you have been introduced to a new country and a new view of the world.
This is the general idea I want my coworkers to have about autism when the training is finished. While we don’t currently work with this population at this job, we may eventually (they are considering starting an autism program), and I want to see an open, Netherland mindset when that happens.