For my entire life I have been “different.” I have also been called odd, peculiar, weird, strange and other, less polite things.
When I was a kid, I didn’t want to be different. Far from it. I wanted nothing more than to fit in and be like everyone else, because that way more people would like me and I would have more friends. Most kids probably feel the same way, and feel it even more so in the teen years. It was a bit easier when I had friends who, even if they didn’t share my differences, at least accepted them and were friends with me regardless of, or because of, my differences.
For a long time I wondered what it was specifically that made me so different. Did my parents raise me differently from other kids’ parents? I was somewhat over-protected due to my having juvenile diabetes. Was it the fact that I liked girls just as much as I liked boys? I got called a “lezzie” fairly often. Was it my religion? At a high school reunion I was told that I had been seen as very prudish and religious by my classmates. Was it my intelligence and good grades? No, there were other kids who got better grades than I did. Was it my diabetes? Doubtful. Maybe it was none of those things.
When I found out about Asperger’s Syndrome in the mid-1990s things finally fell into place. I had the ah-hah moment. The lightbulb went on. This was why I was different. It didn’t fix the years I’d been an outcast for my differences, but at least it explained them, and I no longer felt like my differences had been my fault. There was nothing I could have done to change the fact that I had Asperger’s, and there would have been no treatment available to me when I was growing up.
While I hated being different when I was a kid, today I enjoy being different. I don’t want to be just like everyone else. I am comfortable with who I am and don’t want to change that. If everyone was alike, where would we be? For example, if everyone was scientifically gifted and spent all their time in the laboratory, who would build the houses, grow the crops, cook the food or mind the children? If everyone was extremely social and wanted to spend all their time around other people, then who would be willing to spend hours of their time alone coding computer programs or doing chemistry experiments or writing books?
I do wish it were easier for kids to be different and be celebrated for their differences. I wish parents would stop comparing their kids to other kids, whether it’s their siblings or their classmates. (I realize not all parents do that, but many do, and it’s an easy trap to fall into.) Maybe your child isn’t good at math like his older brother, but is good at writing. Instead of saying, “Why aren’t your math grades as good as Bobby’s?” why not say, “I like this story you wrote”? And instead of asking Bobby why his writing isn’t as good as his younger sibling’s, praise his math skills. (Obviously, if one of them is getting failing grades in math or writing, then they need help, but that still doesn’t mean you have to compare them to their siblings.)
I wish teachers and other people who work with children could teach them to respect each other’s differences and not try to make every child be the same as every other child. Too often, when a child is bullied for being different, adults say that the child would not be bullied if he or she would just stop being “different.” That’s like saying that gay kids wouldn’t be bullied if they stopped being gay. Neither is possible, and neither should be a requirement to stop being bullied. The bullies are the ones who are wrong, not the kids who are different. The problem is that to a lot of people, both kids and adults, “different” is still scary.
It’s good to have people who see things differently from the mainstream. A different point of view can be welcome. Someone who is an outsider can shake up a group that has become set in its ways. I’ve seen a quote in a few places that says that the death knell of any organization is the words, “But we’ve never done it that way before!”
Speaking of quotes, I’m going to end with this brilliant one from the write Audre Lorde, who was herself different (her parents were immigrants, she was a lesbian, and she was disabled). “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”