You and Me: Typical Diamonds
By Jennifer Cook O’Toole
Autism Asperger’s Digest January/February 2014
A diamond is, after all, just a lump of coal that handled a lot of pressure really well. So dust yourself off and get out into the light. You’ll be amazed at how you shine.
Spelunking. Isn’t that just the weirdest word? It makes me think of some nasty tree fungus or something. But it’s not. Spelunking happens to be cave exploration. And guess what you can do while spelunking? Why, you can sluice, of course!
Nope, that’s not a Dr. Seuss word either. Sluicing (which sounds like juicing) is an old mining technique. You fill a wire box full of dirt and silt, then you slosh it around in running water to see if you’ve uncovered anything interesting. One minute, you’re digging through muck from an underground stream—the next minute, you unearth these amazing, albeit really rough and dirty, little bits of treasure.
OK. This, you may be thinking, is all very nice, but it has absolutely nothing to do with me. That’s where you’re wrong. It’s not that I expect you to go grab a bucket and start hunting, but then again, let’s say you did. I did, last spring. Through pail after pail of North Carolina’s red earth, I picked and swirled and washed. And every batch was full of surprises. Before long, I had discovered dozens and dozens of stones: golden pyrite, silvery malachite, smoky quartz, rose quartz, sparkling mica. There were piles of them!
“We’re rich!” my son yelled. Of course, I hated to disappoint him, but none of these stones were worth much money. They were—and are—lovely. They’re also very abundant. You know: normal, typical, common. They’re everywhere. On the other hand, precious gemstones, like diamonds, rubies, sapphires, are very rare. That’s why they cost so much. If folks could dig them up in their own backyards, who would need a jeweler? Being extraordinary is what makes them valuable. And all we had was a bucket full of normal.
Here’s where we get to you and me. Our brains operate in a way that is less common, a way that is called “autism spectrum” or “Asperger’s Syndrome (AS),” and it’s literally built into our hard-wiring. An AS label isn’t good or bad. It’s a description of our shared experiences. For example, you and I easily notice things others miss. We also miss things others easily notice. We feel emotions differently and sense the world differently. We think and fear and love and learn in ways that typical minds don’t. The fact is, in many (though not all) ways, we are not common.
I understand wanting to fit in. To blend in. For it to be easy. To not worry so much about “belonging.” Then again, I wonder if anyone really would be content being totally typical. Who chooses a hero “because he is so normal”? Who gets a compliment or wins an award or even lands a job by being run-of-the-mill? No one. That’s because normal is an illusion; it’s a role played by many but lived by none.
Look, you are in your own head 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You know every mistake you make, every doubt you have, every insecurity that wears you down. Dating, acne, the right way to stand or smile or dress for a party—normal people don’t overanalyze all of this craziness, right? Wrong. Typical people don’t feel normal a lot of the time, either.
Since I’ve been out of high school, I’ve made some discoveries. It turns out that the most offensive bigot in our class was actually being beaten nightly. He was trying to look tough at school to earn some respect at home. The tough, burned out kid who made fun of me for being a “dictionary brain” was dyslexic. She’d have loved to worry whether she was going to get an A or A+, instead of worrying if she’d even graduate. What was normal for me was impossible for her.
And that’s the key. If by “normal” we mean “common,” then it turns out, it’s pretty normal to feel like you don’t fit in at all. Everyone has strengths. Everyone has challenges. And everyone has behind-the-scenes fears that others never see.
Now don’t get me wrong. Yes, some people do have an easier time naturally “playing well with others.” That’s an inborn talent. And envying others’ abilities only wastes the time you should be honing yours. Are you a gamer? Personally, I stink at pretty much every video game I’ve ever tried. So if Minecraft is your thing, you definitely have some skills that I don’t. That’s OK. On the other hand, I can dance like nobody’s business. Maybe you avoid dance floors like the plague and seriously believe you might die of either fright or embarrassment if you suddenly got stuck in a spotlight. That’s OK, too. However, not being a particularly good gamer doesn’t give me an excuse to avoid trying. Being terrified of dancing doesn’t mean you get to hide on the sidelines. At some point, you have to get in there and say, “You know what? Who cares if I look ridiculous? I just wanna have fun.”
Common is a relative experience. It’s all about the surroundings. Whatever differences, talents, or challenges you experience from being on the spectrum are, well, pretty typical. I get you. So if you need to feel normal, hang out with me. We’re both Macs in a PC world. Distinct. Innovative. Logical.
If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, think of this whole growing up thing as spelunking and sluicing—only you don’t have to hunt for anything “extra”ordinary. It turns out, you already are the discovery. You already are the treasure, as natural and as precious as a jewel. A diamond is, after all, just a lump of coal that handled a lot of pressure really well. So dust yourself off and get out into the light. You’ll be amazed at how you shine.
Jennifer O’Toole, winner of the 2012 Temple Grandin Award, is an Aspie (married to an Aspie) with three Asperkids of her own! Her conversationalist presentation of useful insights has touched hearts, lightened spirits, and even led to the founding of Asperkids, LLC, a multi-media social education company. Jennifer is the author of five books, including the newly released The Asperkid’s Game Plan: Extraordinary Minds, Purposeful Play…Ordinary Stuff.
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