Society gives us many images of what “love” looks like. Whether it’s through TV shows, music, or the newest top celebrity, our minds can become flooded with thoughts about what it looks like to have that “picture-perfect” relationship. While there are many people and things in my life who have taught me about love by showing it to me personally, one group of individuals I have learned a great deal from are individuals with autism.
One: Love without boundaries
Society teaches us only to love those who love us, to love those who can do something for us in return, and to love those who can offer us something we don’t already have. But these individuals have shown me quite the opposite.
Love those who give you the weird look in the grocery store when your brain is telling you you have to walk in step with the person beside you. Love those who turn around when you’re sitting in the very back of the lecture hall trying not to disturb your classmates from your stimming. They love on those who have nothing but offensive comments to say in return. They love on those who don’t know anything about them. And I say all these things because I’ve seen it firsthand.
I’ve witnessed an individual with autism blow kisses to every random stranger that passed by on the streets of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania only to get a few stray glances wavering over. I’ve witnessed another individual greet people by waving his hand until I thought his arm was going to fall off only to receive grimaces.
Not only have these experiences made it apparent to me that we need to love without worry of boundaries but also that we’re not very good at letting other people love us either. We put up the wall and say, “I don’t need that, I’m fine on my own.”
These individuals don’t care what you look like, where you live, how much money you have, what your social status is, what your political views are, or how messy your past looks. They’re going to love you anyway. Whether you like it or not. Even your opinion of whether you want them to love you or not isn’t going to stop them from doing it.
And that kind of mindset is quite honestly refreshing in today’s culture.
Two: Love from the heart, not the flesh
These individuals don’t love for their own selfish gain. They have love in their heart, so there’s really nothing else left to gain. They want to see you smile. They want to make you laugh.
If you love others with the expectation of getting something in return, you’re going to disappoint yourself. Because we’re human and that’s what we inevitably do; we disappoint. But if you love because that’s what fills you, you’re only going to overflow.
They love you because that’s what they want: love, just like any other human being on this planet. I have never seen a love purer than the love that explodes from these individuals’ hearts.
Genuine, trusting, affectionate.
Three: Love your neighbor
I have an autism shirt that says, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” It doesn’t say “…make as much money as you can,” or “…step on others to get yourself to the top,” or “…be kind to those who are kind back,” or even “…be kind only to those who share the same views as you.” It just simply says “…be kind.” And the easiest first step I’ve witnessed is loving your neighbor. Out of all the individuals with autism I’ve worked with, they are the best people to perform this action that I’ve ever seen. Whether it was picking me a flower on the playground or the class bringing me to tears by making me a card on my last day at their school, the way they continuously showed their love to me, a neighbor, was heartwarming.
Four: Shine your love light
You never know who may need it. Each time you wake up in the morning, you never know who you’re going to encounter. You might think you know exactly how your day is going to unfold, but there could be another plan for you that day. And more than likely, the latter happens. But I can assure you, no matter who you encounter any day of the year, they need your love. They need to know someone cares. They need to know someone sees them struggling and know they’re not alone. They need to be able to see your love light shining.
When issues arise, you have the choice to continue to love or not. You have the choice to answer without arguing. You have the choice to speak without accusing. You have the choice to promise without forgetting. You have the choice to forgive without punishing. It’s your choice.
And I know there has never once been a time I’ve looked at an individual with autism and didn’t smile at the joy they have just living life and loving others.
And I believe now more than ever before in this country we are being called to let our love lights shine, bright and bold and into the darkness.
About the Author
Bailey is a sister to 24-year-old Bradley who was diagnosed with autism when he was a little over 2 years old. She attends college at California University of Pennsylvania where she is studying Communication Disorders to one day become a Speech- Language Pathologist to help other individuals with disabilities.