This week we look at another famous person who lived with and overcame autism to do extraordinary things. Considered the father of fairytales, the stories written by this autistic have been handed down over the centuries and today are still some of the best fairy tales ever written.
The excerpt comes from the children’s book Different Like Me written by Jennifer Elder.
“Hans Christian Andersen didn’t fit in very well in his home town. So when he was just 14, he set out for the big city of Copenhagen. It was a very long walk, but Hans was excited. Soon he would be in a new place where nobody knew him. Hans could start a brand new life!
Unfortunately, life in Copenhagen wasn’t much better than it had been at home. Hans tried to find work but didn’t have any luck. So instead he started school, but didn’t fit in there, either. The other boys teased him for being tall and awkward, and they hurt his feelings. Even the teachers weren’t very nice. Hans was sad, but he cheered himself up by writing stories. He wrote wonderful tales about mermaids and princes. In the 1830s, books were written in a formal style, using lots of long words. But Hans wrote simply, the way people really spoke. This was new to readers. His stories became very popular, both with kids and adults.
As Hans became famous, he started getting invitations to dances and dinner parties. Hans was pleased but worried too. The people at these parties would be smart people, cool people, fancy people. How would he ever fit in? Despite his fears, Hans went to the parties. Slowly, he began to realize: His new friends didn’t want him to fit in. They didn’t invite Hans because he was like everyone else. They invited him because he was different. They invited him because he was interesting. They invited him because he was Hans.
Hans wrote about lots of different things, but one of his best-loved stories is about being different. The Ugly Duckling tells the story of a young duck who doesn’t look or sound like everybody else. Just like Hans, he leaves home, looking for somewhere to belong—and just like Hans, he gets some bumps and bruises along the way. In the end, though, the ugly duckling discovers that he’s not ugly—he’s not even a duckling! He’s a beautiful swan. It took Hans a while, but he finally realized that just because he was different didn’t mean there was something wrong with him. Hans had been a swan all along.
Hans Christian Andersen’s stories have been read all over the world, and inspired everything from paintings to songs to movies. That sad 14-year-old boy long ago may have secretly hoped that he and his stories would someday be famous; but in his wildest dreams, he could not have guessed that a statue of one of his characters would watch over the harbour of the city he loved. In fact, today the Little Mermaid is the symbol of Copenhagen—the city where Hans feared he would never fit in.”
In our last piece we gave you a peek at child with autism telling you five things that child might wish you knew, this week we give you five more.
Because language is so difficult for me, I am very visually oriented. Show me how to do something rather than just telling me. And please be prepared to show me many times. Lots of patient repetition helps me learn. A visual schedule is extremely helpful as I move through my day. Like your day planner, it relieves me of the stress of having to remember what comes next, makes for smooth transitions between activities, and helps me manage my time and meet your expectations.
Focus and build on what I can do rather than what I can’t do. Like any other human, I can’t learn in an environment where I’m constantly made to feel that I’m not good enough or that I need fixing. Trying anything new when I am almost sure to be met with criticism, however constructive, becomes something to be avoided. Look for my strengths and you’ll find them. There’s more than one right way to do most things.
Help me with social interactions. It may look like I don’t want to play with the other kids on the playground, but sometimes it’s just that I simply don’t know how to start a conversation or enter a play situation. If you can encourage other children to invite me to join them at kickball or shooting baskets, I may be delighted to be included.
Try to identify what triggers my meltdowns. This is termed “the antecedent.” Meltdowns, blowups, tantrums or whatever you want to call them are even more horrid for me than they are for you. They occur because one or more of my senses has gone into overload. If you can figure out why my meltdowns occur, they can be prevented.
If you are a family member, please love me unconditionally. Banish thoughts such as, “If he would just …” and “Why can’t she …?” You didn’t fulfill every last expectation your parents had for you, and you wouldn’t like being constantly reminded of it. I didn’t choose to have autism. Remember that it’s happening to me, not you. Without your support, my chances of successful, self-reliant adulthood are slim. With your support and guidance, the possibilities are broader than you might think. I promise you I’m worth it. It all comes down to three words: Patience. Patience. Patience. Work to view my autism as a different ability rather than a disability. Look past what you may see as limitations and see the gifts autism has given me. I may not be good at eye contact or conversation, but have you noticed I don’t lie, cheat at games, tattle on my classmates, or pass judgment on other people? You are my foundation. Think through some of those societal rules, and if they don’t make sense for me, let them go. Be my advocate, be my friend, and we’ll see just how far I can go.
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