This summer as a part of a school assignment, Ethan and I read the well-known essay "Welcome to Holland" by Emily Perl Kingsley. (If you haven't read it, you can find it here.) In it, the author compares welcoming a child with a disability to planning for a trip to Italy, just like the one all her friends took, and ending up in Holland instead. Her message about being different, not less is clear. She writes, "if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland." Ethan, an autistic teen who types to communicate, asked to share his response to this essay.
Here it is.
As a philosophy my mom clearly embraces, the Holland analogy explains our party in Amsterdam. Both my brother and I are autistic. What madness. When my mom sweetly so longed to travel to Italy after her first Dutch sojourn, she went off the plane and found herself still surrounded by too many familiar sights. There were windmills and tulips and autism everywhere. At times, she must long for what her friends all have - pasta and vino and neurotypicality. To her credit though, she never displays anything but the fiercest kind of loyalty to her Dutch life.
I, too, dream of Roman holidays. What sunny afternoons would I have in Tuscany? Would my peers be easier to connect with in Venice? As I have started typing, the borders of Holland seem to go softer.
Maybe we aren't going to Italy, but Belgium still seems possible.
Ethan Tucker is a 15-year-old autistic high school student in Maryland who communicates the importance of presuming competence one letter at a time. Always, always presume competence.