When I was 14 years old I had my first kiss. It was during a slow dance to the song “Back at One” by Brian Mcknight. It was a kiss full of emotion and a slight bit of shock that it was actually happening. Looking back now, though, the reason I remember that moment so well wasn’t because it was my first but because of how I remembered that song playing in the background.
If autism has given me any one gift I think it’s the ability to retain information in unique ways that most other people can’t. I can remember Howie Day’s song, “Collide," playing in the background at our school gymnasium when I fell in love for the first time. I remember when I was 10 and was listening to “I Want It That Way” from The Backstreet Boys. (Yes, I wanted to be the sixth member of their boy band way back when!) The morning of the first day I switched schools to a private school for students with learning disabilities. Even while I’m writing this article I’m listening to a playlist of R&B Slow Jams that I listened to while studying for my first test that I got an “A” on in high school. For me, a long list of moments in my life can be broken down one way or another into a song.
I think this type of focus has contributed to my overall development and it serves as a constant reminder of why we must continue to play to our strengths while at the same time working on our weaknesses. I think too often people in our lives focus on “deficit-based learning” where we look at how to address our weaknesses without focusing on our individual strengths as well. I see this as a huge problem especially for autistic adults.
Regardless of my weaknesses, I’ve always stressed that my abilities (like retaining moments in my past through music) have been basically like superpowers to me. Sure I may never be able to fly, walk through walls, or turn into a green rage monster whenever I want, but having those powers would take away one of the greatest gifts I think anyone is ever given and that’s individuality. If we could start considering everyone as superpower-based on his or her own strengths we would be so much better off.
Think about it. A collection of “Avengers” that consists of everyday heroes of all different abilities. A lot of people look up to these comic book characters as role models when, in reality, every time someone looks in a mirror they are looking at a potential hero full of endless possibilities.
So regardless of what your strengths are, just remember to play to them as much and as well as possible. Even if you don’t know your main strengths, focus on pushing yourself to understand what they are. Get out there, ask questions, and remember to look towards your loved ones for guidance if all else fails. One thing about being an adult is having the confidence in yourself to advocate for your specific needs. This can be tough but one thing I’ve noticed through being an autistic adult is that the only way you can fail in this is if you don’t try. Hockey player Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” Please remember to take your shot because it can truly lead your way to greatness.