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What My Autistic Son Taught Me About Being Comfortable in One’s Skin*

*A Mother’s Wish blog contains a treasure trove of insights. We have deliberately not created a paywall for our mission to share accurate insights about the inner lives of autistic individuals to everyone. But we would be most grateful for an SGD10 payment of love and support if you feel you have benefited and are in a position help us to continue our mission. A new digital photograph of Sebastien's artwork is available each time we upload a new post.

Recently, an enlightened friend used this phrase — "comfortable in his own skin” — to comment about the change he noticed in my autistic son, Sebastien, when he was settling down in Bali. Over the next few days, this phrase lingered in my mind. It evoked a memory of a more distant past when a mum of neurotypical kids had commented on this quality about Sebastien, who was just a boy at the time when she saw him at the playground. She spoke openly about her envy of his seeming indifference to what others thought about him, waxing lyrical about how liberating it must be to live with such freedom. I smiled wryly, holding back from telling her how challenging it was to raise an autistic child who did not get social norms the way most of us do without making an effort.

It was only many years later that I would come to appreciate how being "comfortable in his own skin" was a non-negotiable for Sebastien. By then, we would have already experienced the severity of his meltdowns, manifesting in aggression and self-injury for seven years. Subsequently, we would also have witnessed Sebastien's steady, but gradual, improvement from his aggressive and self-injurious self, without the aid of psychiatric medications, after creating a strong living environment for him in Bali.

And contrary to what many people from the outside world would think, when I comment that Sebastien has improved, he hasn't gotten "more normal", which often means "speaking more words" according to them. I would reply, "No, he is speaking less. But he is better," adding that his days of meltdowns have abated. And they would go, "Oh! That's good!", even though they wouldn't be able to hide the slight tinge of disappointment or bewilderment. Sebastien's improvement has an element of a consolation prize.

But my journey of being a parent of an autistic child — especially one who is non-verbal yet expressive — has been learning how important it is to provide him with a safe space where he can be comfortable in his own skin.

This is, by no means, easy in a world driven by the imposition of norms and expectations of their adherence. Despite the clarion call for DEI (diversity, equitability, and inclusion) and the assertion of "authentic" selves, the outside world constantly demands that we put on acceptable facades and cover up our inner selves.

It is why having Sebastien in my life and keeping his Bali bubble intact is so precious to me. For my journey with him is a constant reminder of the all-importance of being comfortable in one's own skin.


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