This post comes out of many attempts to wrap my head around the state of the autism community in the past several months. It came to a head over the past week or so as I've seen both autistics and parents alike silenced by bullies on what is supposedly the "opposing" side. Bloggers and people I have greatly respected - again, both self-advocates and parents alike - have acted in ways that I find unbecoming to anyone.
There are no sides.
There are no absolutes.
No one person has rights over someone else.
No one can police how someone should feel.
And in my reflection, I am brought back to my sophomore-level philosophy class from almost 15 years ago...Comparative World Religions. I took the course as an honors level course and had to write a 15 page paper on a religion other than my own. I chose Buddhism.
It was in this research that I learned of a Buddhist principle called the "Eight-Fold Path" or the "Middle Way". The Middle Way is followed not because of fear of some type of supernatural retribution or reward - in other words, it is devoid of the ideas of Heaven or Hell as we know them - and thus it is also devoid of extremism. Essentially, to follow the Middle Way is to choose a moral path because it is right to do so, and you choose that path outside of the influence of others. You aren't bullied or coerced into the Middle Way; you walk that path because it is what is right. In turn, you don't try to convert or bully along the Middle Way. The journey is not about what the world does, but relies on the premise that your actions alone can bring change. Living can influence others, not force.
So, why is a Catholic autism mom rattling on about Buddhist philosophy?
Simply put, I had to decide whether to bow out of the autism community - a choice I felt looming in the horizon due to the vitrol I had experienced - or to jump in and wade within the messy waters. It was then that I realized I didn't have to choose an absolute. There is a Middle Way.
There are far more wonderful and supportive autistics, self-advocates, and parents out there than there are those who reside on the extremes. The bullies, quite frankly, are not worth my time. Nor are they worth yours. I won't point them out to you; they live on both "sides" of the autism community and will make themselves easily identifiable to all.
I hear - and feel - far too often that fear of angering someone in our community with anything we say. And so I say this to you:
This will be a safe space for all.
To that end, no one will feel silenced.
Everyone will feel the right to counter someone's opinion if it feels wrong to them in a respectful manner. As friends, we will remember that more unites us than divides us and that words are often just that. We will educate each other and understand that none of us - regardless of our neurology - get it right all the time.
For we are parents.
We are autistics.
We are advocates and self-advocates.
We are experts in ourselves and our child(ren), but no one else.
We are all doing our very best.
We will work together to continue to do so.
For we all love.
We all hurt.
We all smile and laugh.
We all cry.
Some of us know the feeling of joy in watching our children do something for the first time.
Some of us know the feeling of accomplishment that comes from doing something for the first time.
Some of us know the pain of watching a child have a seizure. Or be wheeled away into surgery. Or undergo a major procedure.
Some of us know what it is like to go through that ourselves.
Some of us have felt that life is unfair, either for ourselves or our loved ones.
Some of us have lost a child.
Some of us have lost someone dear.
Some of us know what it is like to just want an answer.
Some of us are okay with questions.
We have all seen or experienced injustices.
We all know what it is like to fight.
We all want to see a better world for our community.
And we all know that each day is filled with joy and sorrow. That some days are better than others. That some days it feels like the sky is crumbling. And we will be there together to triumph in the good days and to hold each other up through the bad.
And we will acknowledge that it is okay to admit that this parenting gig is tough, because it is for all parents regardless of their children's neurology. It is okay to admit that being human is tough, regardless of neurology. The challenges are different, but they are challenges nonetheless.
It is also okay to admit that joys happen. We will not diminish the challenges for the successes, nor will we diminish the successes for the challenges. We recognize that they both coexist in a strange and at times harrowing harmony.
It is those truths that unite us. It is these things that place us above the bullies, if we choose to walk that Middle Way. And so that is what we will practice here. Not Buddhism per say, but walking a road in between the extremes. By entering here, you are willing to admit that your fellow person - because that is what we all are at our fundamental core...human - is not going to always get it right and neither will you. So, we won't belittle anyone who stumbles. We will say that each person has the right - the absolute right - to feel whatever they feel, but it is the words and actions that come forth from that emotion that determine the rightness or wrongness of one's choices. The feelings in that moment must be valid.
So that is what we will be. I invite you to join me. Jack and I are pretty good company on this journey.