Nearly every autistic child has been told, at some point, that their Autism is a superpower. The hope is that conceptualizing their disability as a secret advantage can switch a child’s mind set from one of self-deprecating to self-confidence.
Here’s The Reality
Often, Autism parents telling their children they have a superpower is more for the parent’s comfort than the child’s. In reality, Autism is a neurological disorder and has disabling facets that vary per individual.
Benefits Vs. Costs
With all that said, I, personally, am not whole-heartedly against telling autistic children they possess some unique abilities, because they do. But let’s take a look at the pros and cons of doing so.
About 30% of autistics demonstrate a skill set which could be classified as a “special ability.” But all autistics have unique and interesting perspectives on the world.
Seeing things in a different hue has both creative and problem solving benefits. That might sound trivial, but as disabled people, finding creative solutions to overcome the many obstacles we face in life is a necessity.
Autistic children face no shortages of naysayers. Whether it be peers, teachers, therapists or even their own parents there will always be someone reminding us of everything we struggle with. All kids love superheroes, feeling like one really might buoy an autistic child’s self-confidence.
Picture you’re an autistic child. You’ve yet to master verbal speech. You’re struggling in school because the lights are too bright and your classmates are too loud. At home, you meltdown often due to your school’s harsh sensory environment. You sense your parents’ frustration.
Now, picture if someone, beit a parent, teacher, or therapist tells you that your Autism is actually a superpower. They don’t tell you specifically how this superpower works or how to activate it, they just tell you to feel good about yourself.
You’re still struggling. People still see you as a burden, but hey, at least you have superpower you have no clue how to use!
Telling autistic children they have superpowers without teaching them how to use their strengths to overcome their weaknesses is like telling a person they’ve won the lottery but no one can find the ticket.
Strengths And Weakness
Most people have a few things they’re pretty good at, a few things they’re pretty bad at, and are around average in most other things. Autistics tend to specialize. We’re significantly above average at a handful of things, and terrible at nearly everything else.
Functioning as an autistic person is a never-ending balancing act, weighing our few strengths against numerous deficits. The ability to leverage our way through life is the real Autistic superpower.
The Hero’s Journey
It’s rare when a hero instinctively knows how to wield their superpowers. Usually there’s a mentor to teach them. Parents are autistic children’s mentors. They are responsible for helping their children discover and utilize their strengths.
However, there needs to be a paradigm shift in how Autism therapies are approached. While certain skill sets such as, potty training, self-feeding, and communication are crucial, too much emphasis is placed on skill acquisition and not enough on already existent talents.
Is it really a win, if an autistic child has an at-grade-level vocabulary, but can’t work around their autism-related Dyscalculia or Hyperacusis?
What Does Strength Leveraging Look Like?
In school, math was my worst subject. I spent twelve straight years of failing nearly every math test and quiz placed in front of me. (Which is why I blog and podcast for a living). Luckly, in America, the only grades anyone cares about are the ones you score on standardized state tests.
In the weeks leading up to my eleventh grade standardized Geometry test, we took over a dozen practice tests. These practice tests were from previous years and had different (but similar) questions from the one we’d be taking.
I failed them all.
Hacking The Test
This particular test consisted of two parts, a multiple choice section, and a “Show Your Work” section where we were graded on our ability to write formulas and solve equations.
Here is where my Autism superpowers kicked in.
- Pattern Recognition
- I noticed a pattern in the practice tests. The questions repeated every five years.
- Photographic Memory
- I couldn’t solve the equations, but I could memorize what the correct answer looked like and copy them onto the current test.
- I understood myself enough to know I sucked at math and that my strengths lay in noticing patterns and memory. I requested to take extra practice tests during my lunch period in order to have a larger database.
Teach Us To Use Our Superpowers
I passed the test, albeit barely, along with all the other state tests. I used the same process on my SATs and scored well enough to be accepted into a university.
I used myself as an example because I am not extraordinary. I just use the cards I was dealt. That is the autistic superpower. That’s our key to success.
Teach autistic children how to use their superpowers.