Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Choices of Life in Disability

A long time ago, a friend of mine who belongs to the Nakota branch of the Assiniboine Sioux people of Montana told me about how her tribe's religion views disability. She told me, essentially, that they believe that before I was born, I chose to become autistic, so that I could have my own unique life path and learn from it, even though I knew sometimes it would be more difficult. She told me this applies to all people with developmental disabilities, not just autism.
It got me thinking about a wonderful children's book I read when I was young: The Mountains of Tibet:

In the book, a young boy is born, where else, but the Mountains of Tibet. He notices, at a young age, the cosmos stretching out above him, and declares, "There are other worlds out there. Some day I will visit them." He declares his wish to visit not only the cosmos, but other countries, other people. He never does leave his valley though, and when he dies, he is given a chance to choose either to go to "The endless paradise some call heaven, or you can live a new life."
As he chooses to live a new life, he gets to pick the details of the life he will lead: Where he will live, who his parents will be, the colour of his skin, the nationality of his people, and finally, his sex, opting to be a girl, feeling that he used to be a boy in a previous life.

I don't 100% agree with the notion that we could choose our destinies and our life-paths before we are born; namely, the major wrench in the theory for me is my girlfriend, who was born with a male sex, but identifies with the gender of women. I'm certain that if she had been given the prenatal choice of her sex, she would have rapidly accepted being female. Or perhaps she chose specifically to be trans. It's a difficult path to follow, but it is a powerful one, and she and I are both stronger women now for helping each other as she transitions. Could there be more to that than I initially thought?
Primarily though, I thought about my autism. If I had been given such a choice, would I choose to be autistic? I will be the first to admit it can be difficult. Most of the struggles in my autism manifest from external forces, such as intolerance, misunderstanding, and neurotypical insistence on conformity. But I will not deny the pain in the ass that comes from having my ears work too well one moment and not work at all the next, or having to deal with sudden surges of dizzy light-shows in my brain, and other side effects of not processing everything the way neurotypicals do and expect all others to do.
However, I would keep my autism, no matter how many times I was asked, no matter how many theoretical lives I was reborn into. I hope I would remain autistic for all lifetimes, and, if there is such a thing as a soul, I do believe my soul is autistic.
So much of what I know, how I know it, and how I learned it, is tied to me being autistic. Every day, it proves to be exhilarating, and yet humbling and character building. Without my autism, I never would have realized the extent of my own strength. My disability is not romantic. But it is powerful, and above all else it is mine. If I chose it before I even knew my own name, I can accept that. Some might interpret it as my "cross to bear", but I think of it as my own path to walk. And let me tell you, the flower smell sweeter and the bird calls are much easier to hear when you have autism.

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