Knowledge is power.
One of my favorite movies is “Auntie Mame” starring Rosalind Russell. It is the story of a boy who goes to live with his aunt after his father dies and she opens his eyes to the world. Auntie Mame says, “life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!”
Auntie Mame is a bohemian character and keeps an eclectic group of friends, including a teacher who espouses the Greek principle “know thyself.” This is a principle that Auntie Mame strives for throughout the movie.
Towards the end of the movie she foils her nephew’s “arranged” marriage saying “I won’t let you … marry him off to a girl with braces on her brains.”
Auntie Mame is all about gaining knowledge, not suppressing it, and the joy and acceptance that comes with enjoying life’s richness, within and outside oneself.
When we received our son’s diagnosis of Autism it was a lot to comprehend – intellectually, emotionally, practically, among other things. One of the questions we realized we had to tackle almost immediately was the question of when to discuss his diagnosis with him.
It is important to note that we did not even consider the question “if” we should tell him. Of course we were going to tell him. We were no more going to deny the knowledge to him than we were going to deny it to ourselves. We were just not sure at what age and how we should do it. What do we say? How do we explain it?
Our internal questions were really about the difference between a “label” and “awareness.”
Label means “to put in a certain class; classify.” Awareness means “the state or condition of being aware; having knowledge; consciousness.”
In other words, the difference between simply applying a name to something and being done with it, and spending time exploring and understanding it. We wanted our son to be aware of his Autism, not be labeled by it.
To know himself.
We told him sooner than we expected we would. He was deeply distressed about not fitting-in in first grade and we wanted him to understand that his struggles were not because he was doing something wrong.
There are some who expressed concern about our son knowing about his Autism, worried that he would be constrained by a label.
Those concerns are valid – he is a child after all and it is up to us to make sure he cultivates knowledge and understanding of his Autism, while at the same time making sure he does not label himself and use his diagnosis as a crutch – “braces on his brains.”
It is a parenting line that is walked daily.
Then there are the concerns about how others see him.
In truth, there is nothing we can do about what others think of him.
Every one is appraised, analyzed, and in some way judged by others. When we walk down the street we subconsciously draw conclusions about everyone we see. We can’t help it. It is part of the human condition, and there is not a lot anyone can do about what others think of us.
What we can do is our best to raise a strong, vital child who fully knows and accepts himself, and who feasts on life’s banquet.
Simply: Parenting the difference between “label” and “awareness.”
Here is a great perspective on labels as valuable tools.