Otherness Can Be Inspiring

Otherness Can Be Inspiring

My niece has been diagnosed with ASD at the age of three. Since then, I’ve been her babysitter, teacher, caregiver, fairy godmother, and whatnot. I tried to be there for my sister and her beautiful daughter whenever they needed me and often be there just in case they might need me without realizing it.

My niece is a precious gift, just as any child. She is amazed at the world, and playful and loved. Yet one can at once see that she is different. Her otherness shows when she plays, eats, draws – and even when she sleeps.

This can be alarming. When she won’t respond, when we peer into her face for a faintest cue of how she feels but find no expression. When we struggle to understand if she needs help or needs to be left alone. When we don’t know whether she’s daydreaming or in a stupor.

This can be frustrating. When I read a book and she seems to be listening and I think for a moment that she will go out of her shell and we’ll connect in a way that I know how to. And then she stands up and leaves the room, calmly and silently, to go to the kitchen and connect the drops on the kitchen counter with her little finger, as other kids connect the dots in the copybooks. When you feel transparent and nonexistent for this little soul inside.

This can be inspiring. When she plays with most unlikely things, and you try to see the world through her eyes and you find beauty in unexpected places – a wealth of beauty all around you. I wish one day I could write a book where I will be able to convey all this beauty with words (even though she rarely uses those herself).

It can make you hopeful. Her pace is different, but she makes progress. I know that she will probably need some additional tool to help her get through high school and college, but yes, we do have this aspiration for her getting a degree and maybe even having a full college experience attending. I hope she will become more vocal at some point. If not, I hope that tools like various AAC or resources like Write My Paper will help her to find her voice.

In can be empowering. When she enjoys the sun in the yard and twirls around, not like other girls do, imitating Disney princesses, but awkwardly flapping her arms. She does not try to see herself from outside and appraise herself with this outsider gaze. She does not need that kind of validation. She twirls around because she likes this giddy sensation one gets while doing so. She is in the eye of the storm and the crazy world spins around in a blur of colors, but she has the power to stop it. She doesn’t always. But she does when she twirls around in the yard. It seems like her special affirmation ritual.

In can be rewarding. When you tell her stories and she seems not interested. But then a few days later she comes to you, all serious and somber (I know she smiles inside but what I would not give to see her face lighting up), and she shows a picture, where you see those stories coming to life in her head.

What I am getting at is that her otherness is not something we can or should deny. We often are too focused on “bridging the gap” or doing everything possible for children like my niece to have a “normal life”. I get it, we must make sure that her quality of life is as good as it can be and she will be able to look after herself at some point, where there might not be other people around to do this for her. Yet many people take it too far – as far as flat-out denying the otherness.

My point is that it’s not a bad thing. Her otherness is what powers my niece’s strong traits, not only her challenges. Maybe we should learn to tap into this otherness to help people we love?

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