March 7, 2011

Fitting In

What does it mean to fit in? To assimilate?
If I am a Jew or a Muslim in a primarily Christian country, will I ever feel I truly belong, even if I was born here?
If I am an immigrant, with Spanish or Mandarin or Hindi as my first language, will I ever feel like a native, even if I am here legally?
If I am a person with autism, will I ever feel like I fit in, even if I learn how to behave in socially accpetable ways?

When Moe was first diagnosed with autism, we started behavioral therapies. We worked on (and are still working on) things like waving hello or goodbye, responding to his name, and making choices. We've come a little way on these, although Moe's responses are inconsistent at best, and often seem more like learned responses than actual greetings or choices. So we asked our developmental pediatrician about it. If we teach Moe to respond to a smile or to look at someone when asking for something, will he really understand the meaning behind what he is doing? Or are we just training him how to behave?

The answer we got was somewhere between "we don't know" and "partially." And although I try to tell myself that it doesn't matter, I do want Moe to do more than just cope in society. I want him to be a part of the world, to feel accepted and understood. To belong.

We don't know yet whether Moe will be in an integrated classroom in the future or if he'll always been in a special education program. If he is integrated with typical kids, he may learn from them, and they from him. He may make friends and be accepted by them. But will he ever feel like he fits in? If his mind works so differently from the "normie" kids, will he feel at home with them? Or will he always just be playing a role?

And if he is in a classroom with only other autistic kids, he won't have as much exposure to the outside world, and it may magnify his sense of being an outsider. But there may also be a benefit to being with other kids who share his experience, who understand what it is like to be different.

I hope as time goes on, the answers to these questions will become clearer. And perhaps Moe will even be able to help us answer them. It is hard knowing that there is a fundamental difference between the way Moe sees the world and the way I do, that I will never truly understand his experience. I just hope he knows that we'll work as hard to understand him as he is working to understand us. And that no matter how large that gap, he is accepted, loved and needed right here at home.

Today's post was inspired by Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English: A Novel, as part of From Left To Write. I was given a copy of the book by the publisher, but was not otherwise compensated for this post.

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