By Tim & Laura Paauw
“A child with autism isn’t ignoring you.
They are waiting for you to enter their world.”
This is a phrase commonly seen on autism advocacy/awareness websites. It helps build understanding that someone with an autistic brain sees the world differently, viewed with heightened senses and commonly engaged in scenery that many other people miss.
Laura and I believe that we need to stop calling autism a “disability” and start calling it what it is, “diversability.” Perhaps our society should pause more often and reflect on the world surrounding us at a different level than the fast paced life many of us live. In doing so, we may begin to see the world differently too. Could it be possible that there is a different kind of beauty that many miss in their daily rush?
Here are a few perspectives that Laura and I have reflected on in the past summer months. You may agree or disagree, our goal is simply to challenge the ordinary perspective on behalf of our son Nolan.
The Upper Peninsula (UP) in Michigan is a different kind of beautiful. Some may think this beach scene is rather ugly. It is a place our family visits each year and cannot wait to return. I love looking past the shells, sticks, seaweed, scruffy pines and grass to find its underlying beauty. I think Nolan is such a “Yooper” at heart because he’s a different kind of beautiful too. When you look beyond his stims, language deficit, and lack of eye contact you’ll find his inner beauty. My favorite beach. My favorite boy twin. They’re made for each other because they’re both a different kind of beautiful.
My pondering thoughts after sitting at a picnic table with our son Nolan for a bit and just soaking up the moment and literally looking at the table together. I wondered what he thought and how he saw it:
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder,
What is it that you see?
Is it the work of a creator’s design?
Or just another old knot of pine?
Can you feel the age within this wrinkled eye?
Or is it merely a board most will pass on by?
What is it that you observed today?
Better yet, what is it that gets in my way?
Open your eyes, pausing is key.
Look deep, and a brown-eyed beauty you’ll see.
Nolan’s favorite place to be is outside. In fact, for a boy with very limited vocabulary, “Outside!” is a word we hear from him often. When we take the time to go for a walk with him and watch where his eyes wander in wonder, it always leads to a unique experience. Sometimes it may be the sunlight peeking through a cloud formation. At other times it takes a while to figure out what is fascinating him for the moment. The other day in our backyard he heard a woodpecker thumping on our tree. He spotted it first. His twin sister, Kathryn, and I figured it out a bit later and it ended up being quite an activity for a while. Kathryn said, “Nolan, I’ve never actually seen a woodpecker before! This is so cool!!!”
So, many would call his long and awkward pauses a disability. When we are trying to accomplish something and find ourselves frustrated by his gazing eye we may get tempted to believe this too. However, every moment we have attempted to step into his world we have been blessed. I would call that a diversability. Maybe our creative God is helping to remind us through people like Nolan to “Be still & know that I am God” as we find in Psalm 46:10.