Coming to terms with a 'Different Not Less' life

January 24, 2017

This blog is from Mandy Farmer who writes a blog called From The Bowels of Motherhood where she writes about raising her three children, one who has autism, and her military family life.

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The words "Different Not Less" are touted by the autism community as a widely recognized mantra as to what autistic individuals have to offer to the world.  Children and adults with autism look at the world differently.  Autistic individuals may have different strengths and weaknesses than the general population, but it does not make them any less.  If anything it makes them more.

Coming to terms with my son being different not less was never hard for me.  I love him and I accept him for who he is.  Coming to terms with our new life being different not less was a lot harder for me.  The first time I realized how different outings and vacations might need to be for us was before our son even had a diagnosis.  He was around two years old and I decided to take him to the fair.  Up until this point we had had issues with sleep, feeding, speech and transitions.  Transitions were so hard that sometimes even going from one room in our house to another would cause a meltdown.  Even with all of this, when we were doing fun and preferred outings he was usually a pretty happy little guy.  When we went to the fair that day kids all around us were awed by the lights and sounds.  Most kids were wearing smiles and just taking it all in.  Our son was terrified.  We did not know at that point how hard loud noises were for him.  He threw himself on the ground shaking.  Every time a ride nearby moved he screamed in terror.  He slapped his nose (probably hating all of the smells).  After a few minutes of trying to comfort him, to no avail, I picked him up and carried him the long walk back to the car with him kicking and crying the whole way.  And I was really sad that day.  I wasn't just angry at myself that I had accidentally put him through something traumatic, but I was so sad that he did not and maybe never would find joy in something other children found so fun. 

That was the first time I realized how different things might be for our family.  For years he did not trick or treat at Halloween because the transitions were too much for him.  To this day, we still very rarely do the park because he darts off and with two other children in my care it just isn't safe.  We don't usually eat family meals together because he dislikes the smells and has a constant need for movement. We stopped singing and clapping for birthday parties to avoid upsetting him.  He never ate his birthday cake or any other treats.  For his sixth birthday he was able to verbalize for the first time that he did not want any of his friends at his birthday party.  It made me sad because it was different than what I would have wanted, but we honored it because we realize that different things matter to him.  

All of this may seem like we are experiencing and living a lot less than most other families.  But thankfully our family (and most autism families) find beautiful ways to keep living life to the fullest, despite autism's challenges.  The years our son could not trick or treat or tolerate a costume he loved handing out candy and seeing other kids' costumes.  We do not do the fair and may never do Disney World, but all of our children love museums and zoos.  We plan meticulously, give him a lot of predictability and most of the time can do those outings successfully.  He didn't have his friends at his most recent birthday party.  Instead we had a live reptile show, his siblings and a couple family friends and I think he enjoyed it the most of any party to date.

While he may be different, he is definitely not less.  And while our lives may be different than I pictured, I am learning everyday that I am blessed with more not less.  

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