Yesterday was Autism Sunday, an awareness day that began in 2002. This signals the beginning of Autism Awareness Month and more than ever before, society needs to take a look at what is known about autism spectrum disorders and review the stereotypes that surround autism spectrum disorders.
It’s not that those diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder are the only people with a disability who are misunderstood. On the contrary, it would appear that anyone with a diagnosis suffers from discrimination and bullying in excess of that experienced by their healthier peers. But the fact of the matter is that autism spectrum disorders are the whipping boy of disabilities in many respects.
This past weekend, while listening to videos on YouTube, I came across a recording by Josh Groban entitled, “You Are Loved (Don’t Give Up” and it struck a chord with me. While the first two verses were powerful, it was the chorus that hit home hardest.
Everybody wants to be understood
Well I can hear you
Everybody wants to be loved
Don’t give up
Because you are loved
How often do people diagnosed with a disability feel unheard by family, by friends, by doctors, by specialists …. by society? And how often are people diagnosed with a disability misunderstood by family, by friends, by doctors, by specialists … by society?
Dr. Ralph Nichols, the man who created the Minnesota Listening Model, said that “the most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”
As we make our way into the second day of Autism Awareness Month, ask yourself if you truly listen when people speak to you. Whether it’s a senior or a child or anyone in between, do you really listen to what that person is saying or do you politely ignore the noise that resembles words all the while nodding your head and pretending to listen?
Some of the best conversations I’ve had have been with toddlers and pre-schoolers as well as octogenarians and those who are even older than that. I’ve learned things that I might not otherwise have learned had I not been listening to what was being shared by others with me.
Last year when Charlie Sheen was having his moments in the media, my son asked me if what was going on was the reason for the idiom “star craving mad.” The question stopped me short for a moment and then I laughed … not because my son had misunderstood the idiom “stark raving mad” but because he had shared a moment where a different perspective of what was going on with Charlie Sheen was presented.
This is what happens when we truly listen to people who are speaking with us … we embrace the opportunity to see a different perspective than that which we already hold or that society has labeled the definitive perspective.
When it comes to listening to people, I feel that Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (22 September 1694 – 24 March 1773) said it best when he said: “Many a man would rather you heard his story than granted his request.” You see, most people are able to accept that the answer to a request may be NO but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who is comfortable with not being heard … being ignored, being marginalized, being dismissed.
This may be nothing more to you than a commentary on a personal blog about how most people don’t take the time to truly listen to others, especially those with disabilities, but to someone who needs to be heard, knowing that someone out there wants to hear and understand what they have to say might matter a great deal. I’m hoping it does.