Friday, January 27, 2012

Accepting Differences

A difference. Many adults tell us to cherish them yet they don't mean it. The media, much of the government, our peers all want to make us into some homogeneous person that they can more easily manipulate and control. Or maybe they want us to be that person because difference to them is a scary, alien thing and they have been kept ignorant about differences for so long. Whatever it is, the different are persecuted so often.

I am different. A few other kids are too. We are the outlier, looking inside a world that we cannot be a part of. Yet I am not all that different. I may think and feel more deeply than my peers but at least, I can understand them (at least somewhat). At least, I'm not visibly different but I'm only different once you get to know me. If I wanted to, I could probably dumb down my words, pretend to like what everyone else does and generally not stick out to anyone at all. I could "fit in".

That isn't the case with everyone. Some people have certain characteristics that stick out like a black stain on a wedding dress. For some, being themselves means they wear clothes that are too masculine or feminine to be deemed "normal". Some have physical characteristics that get them teased. Others, however, may appear fine physically but it's obvious that something's "not right about them" once they start talking. For many with Asperger's, they are not able to act "normal" socially and are often mocked because of that.

This is pertinent because of one of the short stories I'm writing. It's about a boy whose twin brother has Asperger's and is getting teased because he's different; the boy is learning to accept his brother while trying to act "cool".

Before I continue, I should probably point out what Asperger's is. Asperger's is considered at the mild end of the autism spectrum and it can vary in its severity. Although the "aspie" can have a number of symptoms(a slang term for someone with Asperger's), Asperger's is mainly marked by an inability to function socially the way neurotypicals (average people) do.  In order to be diagnosed with Asperger's instead of some other condition, the patient has to be verbal, not have had any other developmental delays and has to have reported significant social difficulty that has interfered into some important area of their life. They can have a variety of "odd" behaviors including an obsession with something, a need for routine, lack of facial expression and apparent lack of empathy as well as others. Many have meltdowns because of their frustration with dealing with this.

However, it should be noted that many with Asperger's don't view it as a disorder but a difference. Some disagree with its connection with autism even. Many with Asperger's are very intelligent. They also often have an excellent memory and, because they think differently than most, are excellent at finding solutions to problems many can't see.

I've interviewed many with the condition via YouTube and Yahoo Answers and I received an overwhelming response (before I continue, I would like to thank and acknowledged all who responded to my survey). Many reported that they were or are loners in school, that they feel left out, that they have been bullied often to the point that they are unable to trust others and want nothing to do with them.

This is unacceptable. I'd imagine that an aspie might make quite an easy target. They can't pick up on a lot of social things and they're often overly trusting. Any different person makes an easy target because they have something the bullies can use.

Bullying destroys lives. Some kids kill themselves because of it and even if they don't, they're often left irrevocably scarred by this.

The message in society is that we're supposed to act a certain way. We're supposed to like certain things, follow certain social conventions and sacrifice ourselves to fit it. There's often an unwritten idea that those who don't do this have something wrong with them. Different isn't wrong, though. It's just different.

Different people are often the ones who have advanced society, first of all. Those people thought of the box to formulate ideas and create technologies that have changed society. At the very least, different people have often made people think.

We often make things interesting. We do this by being the talk of people or starting up a conversation no one has thought to start. Many different people are also kind of fun to look at, too (Goths, scenes and rebel dressers, this is for you). We also provide a bit of variety where seemingly none exists.

By offering variety, we often offer up different choices for people to choose from. You don't just have to have the same type of friend but you can have a bunch! Yay!!!

Also, everyone, to a degree, is different. It's obvious that suppressing yourself leads to bad things. It can even cause you to go off the deep end like guys who randomly kill their wives and kids or vent your frustrations in negative ways. Being yourself is freeing, causes less stress, gets you more compatible friends and is fun. Different people are just reaping the benefits so why punish them?

If these reasons aren't compelling enough, then at least consider our humanity. We are people too and we deserve to be treated with respect. You know do on to others as you would want done to you. No one deserves to be bullied and made to feel ashamed, degraded and humiliated. No one.

Tolerance isn't enough. Tolerance is just letting something be. Acceptance is believing that something is okay.

Accepting differences is the first step that we can take to create a better society for ourselves and others. So remember the next time you think that you want to bully or exclude someone because they're different, think of this.

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