Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, our role models were celebrities: TV stars, movie stars, rock stars, and sports stars. We were the first generation to be raised by television. I’m Generation X, what has been called in the US, a “latch key kid.” For the most part, GenX’s parents both worked. We’d get off the school bus, walk home, turn on the television. It was our babysitter. With the advent of cable television in the early 1980s, we would watch MTV. We would see images of rock stars behaving like children and generally having a good time. Some were lucky enough to understand at a young age that the TV world was just fantasy. But still, given current events, I wonder what type of effect it really had.
Many of my friends come from broken homes, where mom or dad worked 2 or 3 jobs. In some, mom or dad were completely absent. For me, I didn’t really have any actual male role models to look up to. My dad was too tired from working long shifts to want to play with my brother and me after work. Most days, he’d come home after I was already in bed. I love my Dad, and I don’t fault him for his hard work. Besides, I think he would have had a hard time relating to me to me as a kid – a non-verbal autistic kid.
Therein lies the problem. How do neurotypical parents relate to their neurodivergent children? To be sure, there’s love, and connection, and affection … but there isn’t a set of shared experiences. Neurotypical parents will necessarily have experienced childhood and adolescence differently than their neurodivergent children.
That’s one of the reasons why we need role models that are like us.
Consider that neurodivergent adults can help make things easier for neurodivergent kids. We’ve been through what they’re going through. We can help kids feel like they’re not alone. We’ve made all the mistakes. We can show them where the pitfalls are, and how to avoid them. After all, it’s far easier to learn from someone else’s experiences than to start fresh. Must we reinvent the wheel with each generation?
The most important reason, however, is to teach kids to embrace their authentic selves.
Growing up in an age before diagnoses, things would have been a lot easier if I had someone to look up to who was autistic. With an autistic role model, I could see myself as normal … a neurodivergent type of normal … and not some broken version of neurotypical normal.
But, for a lot of autistic people, it can be hard to find a good role model. There isn’t a lot of autistic representation in the community. That’s where you and I come in. It’s important for us neurodivergent adults to be “out” in the community, to live authentically, and to be available (at least for a little bit). I know that being out and available can be tough, but it’s important work. We have to be the mentors and role models that we needed back then. We can do it, together.
Consider reaching out to your local community group. Let them know if you’re neurodivergent, and explain to them what that means to you. Offer to help, offer to mentor, or just offer to take part in their activities and see where it goes.