I had a really great conversation with one of my sisters, yesterday. She’s not my biological sister (I hate saying she’s “adopted”), but she’s been a huge part of my family since I was 12 years old. That’s, oh, about 40 years.
She did me a huge favor by writing up a brief “summary” of my personality, strengths, and challenges, for when I did my autism assessment, and we were talking about the stuff she put in there, as well as talking about her own challenges and the issues her kids face.
Now, I actually didn’t tell her about the autism diagnosis. She’s really opposed to labeling people, and when I’ve tried to discuss other issues I’ve got with her, she’d gotten pretty upset at the implications of my “issues”. Basically, her opinion is that everybody’s got challenges and issues, and we need to simply take life as it is, without relying on doctors to tell us every last thing, and do the best with what we have.
I learned a lot from her, yesterday, including the fact that one of my extended family members has a reading disability. She’s had it her entire life, and she got special education for it, but it never actually “got fixed”. This is news to me. And it also explains a lot about why that particular family member never went farther with her education. She just can’t connect what she reads with verbal expressions of it. And if you ask her what she just read 2 minutes ago, she can’t articulate it.
But she’s still gotten on with her life. She has a gorgeous toddler, a great husband, and she loves her work with elderly folks in a nursing home. I suspect, in fact, that her own learning issues help her to relate to the people she works with.
And it struck me, how the attitude in the rural area where my sister lives is so very different from the attitudes of the urban/suburban area I live in. Here, there’d be all sorts of interventions, all sorts of resources available to help address the issues and ensure access to assistance. But where my sister lives, you just accept those sorts of things as part of life, and you get on with it. You live your life. You join a community of worship. You get a job. You do your best. You have family and friends to place you in your space and add meaning and purpose to your life. You get on with it.
Because frankly, there are not a whole lot of competent experts in that area who can provide kick-ass remediation and support for people with special needs. At the same time, there are myriad people there who have all sorts of variations on abilities, many of them impaired in significant ways (social, learning disabilities, physical problems), but still required to contribute to society as fully functioning adults.
So, you don’t spend a lot of time making inventories of your issues. Instead, you just get on with it.
I think maybe that’s why my sister isn’t fond of labels. Because of the dearth of experts in her area who could actually do something substantive. And also because she’s part of a tradition that doesn’t get hung up on labels and categorizations, but sees people in much more basic terms — asshole or not-asshole… good provider or deadbeat… productive worker or lazy, cheating slacker. And so forth.
For me, I see the benefit of both perspectives. But in those times when I’m feeling so beset by life, and I can’t even begin to articulate what’s going on with me to anyone around me — especially intimidating experts — I default back to the way I was raised.
I get on with it
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