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Perseverance, Individuality and Possibilities: The New Definition of Autism

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By definition, autism is a developmental disorder of variable severity that is characterized by difficulties in social interaction and communication, and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behavior. This is a tidy little summation for the layperson that can be found in Webster’s Dictionary or a Google search. It is one definition, yet there are many more words that encompass the definition of living a life with autism.

The word that is first and foremost in my mind that epitomizes autism is perseverance. It is and has always been present in Jonathan and so many others I’ve met and worked with on the spectrum. Day in and day out with each task, obstacle, or endeavor, resides the persistence and drive to succeed. From learning to swim or ride a bike, writing their name for the first time, practicing letters and sounds that lead to reading, tying shoes, zipping up a coat or putting on gloves. As early as pre-school to vocational, from independent living and life skills that transition to adulthood–every day and in every way–perseverance.

The same can be said for those caring and raising loved ones with autism. No one ever said it would be easy, something we intuitively know from the start. Perseverance isn’t always standing at the ready. Life has a tendency to dictate challenges, so does autism. While giving up may seem tempting at times, there is something inside each one of us that knows when we need a boost. Whether from others or our own fortitude. We persevere and move on to the next challenge or triumph.

We are all unique individuals. It’s been said that if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. No truer words have ever been spoken. Yes, by definition, autism is about similar traits and characteristics, but that’s where it ends. We are all individuals and those on the spectrum are no different. Is there one word that defines any of us? When we rubber stamp a definition of autism, we can miss so many qualities, abilities and opportunities to meet some truly incredible individuals, who just happen to be on the spectrum.

There is a world of possibilities that exists for us, and it should not exclude those with autism. Autism doesn’t limit them, but our perceptions and attitudes do. If someone with autism is nonverbal, does it mean they have nothing to communicate? Or do we stop trying to listen or understand? Is it possible to communicate in a way others may not understand or even like? Behaviors are a form of communication, but more often than not, we dismiss the ability to connect, assuming the worst. Defining a person by a word or behavior.  Letting one word determine whether or not communication is possible, completely missing a language we do not speak or understand. 

So, I challenge you to rethink your own definition of autism. Not what you’ve read, seen in the movies, television or the internet. Perseverance, individuality and possibilities, just to scratch the surface. There is so much more to someone than the word autism.  If you were going to be defined by one word, what would you want that word to be? How would you like others to see and respond to you, every time they heard that word? Or would you want others to see beyond the word and its definition? 

While autism is just one word, the definition is as unique as the individual.

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