If I can travel back in time to my childhood, I will tell myself to ignore others’ advice to play the NeuroTypical games that I was hopeless at. Instead, I will advise myself to create my own ways to succeed without betraying my own dreams and ethics.
My mother has occasionally nags me to achieve more materialistic success. One of her favorites is a relative who is younger than me. He can buy a car (despite Singapore’s expensive auction-tax on car ownership) , and who works in a high paying, stress free and stable government job. Now and then, an overachiever in the newspaper will catch her eye. She will promptly share with me how some people can survive on 3 hours’ worth of sleep, so why can’t I handle studying part-time while working full-time like “everyone else”? My father occasionally reminds me that everyone else is getting married, so when can he get a chance to carry his grandchildren?
People often judge others based on superficial criteria. Is a person less worthy because he/she does not get married and have children? Is a person less worthy if he/she does not earn a high salary in a prestigious job? Is a person less worthy because he/she does not score well at school or acquire qualifications? This is even more insidious when we are judging people with autism, because people measure the greatness of autistics based on NeuroTypical standards. This is like judging a fish by its ability to climb a tree, not by its ability to swim in water.
The news articles celebrating autistic talents are not helping since they implied autistics can only be valued if they have some special abilities or gifts, especially one that is valued enough by society to make a lucrative career out of. Autistics are made to feel like losers, not necessarily because they can’t succeed, but because they don’t succeed in the way that NeuroTypicals generally define success.
A common area many parents focus on is educational qualifications. For a NeuroTypical, the process of climbing the corporate ladder starts with a degree, which allows the candidate to land a management job. Management jobs are generally out of bounds for me due to office politics, so I find degrees much less useful. Since I don’t wish to commit to the academic qualifications game, don’t have the money to play the business game, and don’t have sufficient social competency to play the office politics corporate ladder game, I have to find an unconventional way to achieve my goals.
Every one of the millions of adult autistics in the world will also have to find their own path to success, because our society is clueless at developing autistic potential. Parents, please don’t prescribe the popular definitions of success. Instead, help your children find their own path towards success.