Today’s Mesh update comes from an email I received this week. My six year-old nephew has been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. He’s a cute kid, looks like the boy on the right. It’s important to me and my stories that characters navigate the full spectrum of modern kids. To honor my nephew, and the 62.2 million other people with ASD, one of Mesh’s main characters will have autism. Let’s talk about what that means.
My personal journey makes me painfully aware of how people treat disability. They usually fall into three buckets: the people who ignore you, the people who make fun of you, and my personal favorite – the Harry Stones. You know what I mean: Harry Stone on Night Court always had to make a big speech where he gives you the moral of the story. Harry Stones have to make a big deal about how your disability isn’t a big deal. It may sound like they’re good people but it’s really them making your circumstances about them. Irritating.
It’s important to remember that differently-abled kids are all around us. There’s no reason to ignore them, or act like their disability is the only thing worth knowing about them. Let’s create a fourth category: the people who go “Yeah, you have autism. So?” I’m doing that with Roman, Mesh’s protag, and his wheelchair. Why not do the same thing with autism?
One thing I realized after getting my sister’s email is this – my nephew is still a great kid. We hang together, as much as I can handle other people, and he’s never acted weird about Uncle Jackson needing to be alone or getting off the phone after a three minute phone call. He’s smart, he’s kind, and he’s generous. He’s still the same person he was yesterday, the only difference is that someone put a label on him? He didn’t change, I did. That realization forced me to go back to the beginning and mentally put myself in the fourth bucket. It’s taking work, but I’m glad I’m doing it.
In a world where the future just is, we can use Mesh to reinforce that fourth bucket. So, no big deals. No ‘very special episodes.’ Just like we can say “Oh yeah, wheelchair,” with Roman, we’re going to say “Autism. Right.” and move on with our day. Just like Roman, that character’s different abilities will impact how they see life but it’s not and never will be the center of the story.