Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Place Where I Belong

Later today, I will be attending a youth group for developmentally disabled teens. It's called Fusion Inclusion, it's an advocacy group run by SACL.
I've only been to one event of theirs - an end of year party. I attended it not sure what to expect and very afraid. I can get along well with severely disabled teens by putting on my 'child mode'. Not meaning any disrespect, the way I act towards children is much less condescending and superior than most people. I listen to them and am interested in what they think and feel, instead of acting as if kids can't teach me anything. With kids, the big focus is on what they're thinking, feeling and doing, whereas with adults I focus on myself and impress them with my knowledge. But with neurotypical teens, I either withdraw or extend a lot of effort to produce a very fake sort of interaction. I'm terrified of NT teens.
I was afraid these kids would be too NT for me to handle. The only teens I'd interacted with were NT or severely disabled, so I didn't know what to expect from mildly disabled teens. And I wasn't being a 'helper' or a bystander, as in every other interaction I'd had with other disabled people. I was one of the group instead of being set apart by status and role. I've never been one of the group - either I am set apart by status or by neurology. I assumed the other kids would be developmentally delayed non-autistic, too, so I thought I'd have little in common with them.
I arrived late, and they had left the meeting place, so we wandered around a bit before seeing a bunch of teens and young adults, some obviously disabled, walking together. I came up and asked if they were Fusion Inclusion, and they were. At first the only ones I spoke to were the leaders, who were adult and not obviously disabled. I was fairly quiet. But gradually I got drawn out by the others, enticed into interacting with them. And I didn't slip into my two most easy patterns of child-adult or adult-child interaction. Nor did I struggle, planning out each action before I did it. Instead, I acted naturally, more naturally than I act with either adults or kids (and that feels fairly natural).
And what really shocked me was that I belonged. Although not all of them were autistic, enough were that I didn't stand out. I didn't have to think about how I appeared, either to hide my autisticness or show it as a statement about myself. I just naturally acted myself - I stimmed, I acted clueless about some things and knowledgable about others, I peppered them with facts and listened to what they told me with interest. By the end, me and a guy with CP were running around putting ice cubes down people's shirts, especially the pregnant group leader who felt too hot. I even put ice cubes down his shirt. My parents came to pick me up and I asked if I could stay a bit longer, and my brother put ice cubes down people's shirts too. But I didn't need him as a social facilitator for me - I belonged there.
So two days ago one of the group leaders called me, telling me they're meeting again today. As soon as I hung up the phone, I squealed and flapped, grinning widely. I've done that periodically since, whenever I think about going to another Fusion Inclusion meeting. And I've been told it will be more regular now, it's properly starting for the year. Being with them is healing, it heals wounds that are so much a part of me now that I don't even notice how much they hurt until they hurt less for a bit.
[Note: this is my 100th blog post!]

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Blogger Tera said...

Hi, Ettina,

Fusion Inclusion sounds like a lot of fun.

I have a "child mode," too--my mom always said that I always acted the age of whoever I was with, and that I was more comfortable with younger children and adults than people my own age. (Not that I would say I am "childlike"--and I don't think she'd say that, either).

Congratulations on your 100th post!

4:03 PM  

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