This is a guest post from my daughter Hannah. It is excerpts from two letters of encouragement she wrote to a recently-diagnosed friend, and she asked me to share them here, in the hope that it might help others.
This letter is to help explain to one of my friends what Quirky means. Quirky, Autistic, Nerdy, Geeky, Dorky, whatever word you call it by, it means those of us who just aren’t normal. That doesn’t mean that we are wrong, or that our brains aren’t functioning properly, that means that we are divergent when compared to “normal” society. It means while society turns one way, we think about the direction people are going, and decide for ourselves which way we want to go. So many people try to fit in, when they just… Don’t. They fight to be normal, when they could have a happier, more interesting life just being themselves. Because, life isn’t about five pre-determined paths that we choose when we’re sixteen.
Quirkiness is an attribute showing unconventional thinking, and many individualistic traits. Quirkiness is a wide spectrum, spanning from nerds and geeks to Autistics, to those of us who are left out for no reason. I see the parallel between black struggles of the past, and exclusions of Autistics today. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge to always march ahead. We cannot turn back.” Even if society pushes us back, we have to keep to our choices of being who we are. Society always forces away those who are different, but the quirky people are often the only ones who can change it.
Autistic people’s brains often operate in very different ways to the so-called ‘normal’ people. They may have a strong interest in one area, and become a whiz at it, devoting their entire interest time to it, for however long that may be, and possibly taking a job in it. Their mind is more focused on their interests than inter-personal relations. (unless of course, the inter-personal relations are their interest.)
Just like anyone else, there are some areas Autistic people are good at, and some that they aren’t. Autism is just another way of thinking, some members of society will consider it bad, but that is because some people just can’t accept quirky. Those who really matter won’t ignore you just because of diagnosis. People who take you for yourself are real friends, if you have to pretend, you are in the wrong group.
Hope that some of this helped, because I know what being quirky is like. It feels like society has got one standard, which everyone else has to match to be accepted. It is hard to navigate, but not impossible, and take it from a fellow quirky that you can play by the rules, but you are more than than just a follower of those rules. You are an individual, and that means more than just a member of society. You’re you. That person is someone that you should explore, and never lose sight of, because that person is unique, and that person is important. And that person is my friend.
‘You are an individual, and that means more than just a member of society. You’re you. That person is someone that you should explore, and never lose sight of, because that person is unique, and that person is important. And that person is my friend.’ Remember this? I didn’t explain this part in particular.
Personally, it took me years to understand what this meant. There were so many times that I would just go and fake an interest to make friends. For years, I had no success at making friends. At some points, it got as serious as rejection. I had to learn. Thankfully I had safe places to both learn social, and actually enjoy time with people outside my family.
And, when I look for a friend, I’m not seeking a mirror. It’s about who they are that counts. And, once I’m friends with someone, it is very hard to break my trust. I’m not sure if this is the case with everyone, but it is with me. And when I ask about interests, it’s only significance is so that I can talk to that person about them. I’ve had true friends before, and we usually just be ourselves, regardless. Different interests or otherwise, we’ve been close friends for long enough that it doesn’t matter.
It’s cool to have your own interests. I’d be happy to hear about some of your favourite TV shows, movies, books, other. I find it great when people recommend stuff to me that I end up liking. I’m sure other people do too. Friends broaden people’s view of life in general, because of their differences. Yeah, some similarities are cool, no-one would get on without them. But so are the unique parts. Unique is important, because that’s you, being you.
There are a lot of different interests out there. A lot of people will consider them cool as well. Art, music, the Internet, butterflies, the Hobbit, just to name a few, there is a whole world of interests out there.
Confidence. You aren’t the only one with confidence issues. I had confidence issues for quite a while. I’m still trying to be as confident as I once was. People are either so overconfident that they get hyper or arrogant, or lack confidence so much that they seem quiet, and uncertain. I started as the former, then grew to the latter. Now I’m in the middle. You just have to find the balance. It takes repeated acts of courage to build confidence. Sometimes, social incidents don’t go well, despite thinking that you’re doing everything right. That’s when it’s a good time to reflect, and problem solve. Problem solving difficult situations is one of the major things that got me this far. When the next interaction goes well, it helps to boost my confidence. I am not saying it’s easy- it isn’t. But it is worth it. The amount of confidence you have can literally change your life.
If you have that dignified, mature, confident aura about you, then even if people don’t like you, they can at least respect you. It shows that you are settled in yourself, and that you won’t be humiliated easily. That you are mature, have experience, and are friendly.
So that’s me wrapping up the benefits of being unique. It is hard sometimes to be the only one in a crowd, and I don’t get the pressure at school- I’ve never been there. I’d say it’s worth it, but each to whatever works for them. Hope that this helps.