What Autism Means to Me
Updated: Apr 11
By Melissa Lushington, "Don't Cut Corners...Unless It's Cake" - Blog Series Vol. 3, Slice #4
Happy Autism Acceptance Month, as we enter another month of celebration in April of 2022. For two years, I’ve talked about my experiences as a clinically undiagnosed autistic child, teenager, and young adult, I’ve talked about how I discovered myself to be autistic through self-diagnosis in 2017, I’ve talked about how certain special interests such as musical theater helped me grow as an autistic individual, I’ve talked about my history with friendships in the past and present, and last month I talked about how a specific Broadway Musical resonated with me as an autistic individual in terms on my self-discovery journey to autism. However, I never talked about what autism means to me as an individual…until now. To me, autism means cherishing ‘The Little Prince’ within you.
If you’ve never heard the story of The Little Prince, you’re not alone. I didn’t know anything about the story either until I was introduced to it on Thursday, December 9, 2021, in a Broadway.com article titled, New Stage Version of The Little Prince to Bow on Broadway Next Year, where Writer/Editor Caitlin Moynihan announces that a new stage production of The Little Prince is coming to Broadway in March of 2022 when she states, “The Little Prince, a new stage show based on the 1942 book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, will bow on Broadway next year. The new stage production, which will feature dance, aerial acrobatics, and ground-breaking video mapping technology, is set to begin performances at the Broadway Theatre on March 4, 2022, and open on March 17.” The story is about a young prince who travels to different planets including earth in space and experiences the themes of loneliness, friendship, love, and loss. Through my research, I was able to see that The Little Prince is a global phenomenon having been translated into various languages as well as having several stage and screen adaptations. What makes this story so special is that there is so much within the story that many people can resonate with, especially those in the autism community.
According to an article titled, Feature Article: Autism and The Little Prince, Dr. Genevieve Eastabrook who is an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, explains that the famous children’s book resonates with her on a personal level due to the title character reminding her of her younger brother Thomas. Thomas is a high-functioning autistic individual who inspired Dr. Eastabrook’s publication The Little Prince: a glimpse into the world of autism? She talks about her younger brother and his uncanny similarities to the little prince when she states, “While he was growing up we always joked within the family that he was almost a visitor from another planet, come to visit us and observe what the rest of us were doing,” Then she explains how much the book impacted her family and how characteristics and actions of her younger brother Thomas are similar to the character in the story when she states, “As a family, we really enjoyed the book The Little Prince, and some of the things that he would say and some of the ways he interacted with the world reminded me of the character from the book.” Thomas influenced Dr. Eastabrook to do research about autism and Asperger’s syndrome by looking at the original writings of Austrian Physician Hans Asperger. She was blown away to see that Hans Asperger described autistic children who require higher needs support as “little professors” and that they are very concrete, observational, naïve, and bright.
Dr. Eastabrook expressed her thoughts about her findings when she states, “The original language he used reminded me of some of the languages that were used in The Little Prince,” she then continues by stating, “I thought it was kind of neat, so I wrote about my findings and proposed it as a research essay and presentation.” Her work was able to catch the attention of Developmental Pediatrician Dr. J.F. Lemay who became interested in expanding her work and getting it published. After thirteen years, Dr. Eastabrook was able to write her paper and have it published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). Alana Heenan, who wrote the article and works at the School for Advanced Studies in the Arts & Humanities at Western University, explains the important details that the article focuses on when she states, “The article focuses on the connection between The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and autism. It hones in on this ‘Little Prince’ from an asteroid’s social-emotional reciprocity, his restrictive and repetitive behaviors, and his anxiety and depression, all of which are familiar characteristics of children with autism.”
Alana Heenan also explains the intimate connection between classic children’s literature and developmental disorders when she states, “The in-depth analysis concludes with the value of taking beloved literature and connecting it with developmental disorders. The Little Prince uses simple language that is very accessible, allowing readers to understand the feelings of alienation and isolation, and the difficulty understanding social concepts, which can be the experience of people with autism.” According to Dr. Eastabrook, being able to take an ordinary children’s story and use it in a way to help people better understand people with developmental disorders was something she truly enjoyed when she states, “I like the idea of taking a simple children’s story, like The Little Prince, that is kind of a philosophical sort of story, and reframing it in a way where it would help us understand how to relate to children who are outsiders, who they themselves may actually see the behaviors of the neurotypical people as being unusual and difficult to understand.” So, as you can see The Little Prince has a resonating factor with the autism community in terms of repetitive behaviors, anxiety, depression, difficulties understanding social concepts, having feelings of isolation as well as alienation, and having a desperate need of wanting to connect with others. However, The Little Prince also resonates in another special way that fits into the entire essence of what The Little Prince is about…remembering your inner child and cherishing it.
When I watched the 2015 animated movie called The Little Prince and I watched the documentary called Invisible Essence: The Little Prince, the constant theme that kept coming up was how children see and interact with the world differently from adults and the way that children interact and see the world is done in a way that adults don’t understand, so children must help them understand things from their perspective. Well, autistic individuals naturally see the world differently as well which is different from a neurotypical, and the way that autistic individuals interact and see the world is often done in ways that neurotypicals don’t understand, so autistic people must help them understand things from their perspective as well. Another thing I noticed in the animated film was the consistency of adults discouraging the little girl from being a child by constantly trying to rewire her entire being so she would think and function more like them. For example, the mom throughout most of the movie tries to make her daughter live her daily life through a scheduled routine so that she would become an ‘essential’ adult like her.
Another example would be that in the dream sequence, the businessman tries to force the little girl out of her child-like nature as he strapped her down to a desk and puts her through a machine in order to rewire her brain and entire being to become more like an ‘essential’ adult. From an allegorical perspective, this is like how society tries to rewire autistic people through ABA shock therapy treatments and other harmful methods, in order to force autistic people out of their neurodivergent-like nature so that they can become more neurotypical and ‘essential’ like society. It’s only through the help of the old man known as The Aviator and the little prince that the little girl learns the importance of cherishing your childhood while you are a child as well as remembering the inner child within you while you’re an adult. It’s about understanding the value of who you are as an individual and never letting that go no matter how much society tries to change you, and that’s allegorically relatable to the autism community because it’s important for autistic children to cherish who they are in their childhood as well as remember their inner true selves when they’re adults. It’s important for us autistic adults to remember and value our inner true selves as individuals and to never let ourselves change no matter how much society tries to change us. Never stop thinking the way you do, never stop seeing the world the way you do, never stop imagining, never stop dreaming, never stop being creative and inventive, that is what The Little Prince teaches us in the story.
As an autistic adult, I’m happy to say that the individual I was as a child is still within me as an adult. Throughout my whole life, I’ve always been an imaginative dreamer that would zone out into my imagination and talk to myself whenever I was alone. It was my way of escapism from reality, and it was my way of self-regulation, coping, and relieving myself from stress (stimming). I use that imagination to write stories, poems, articles, and especially my blogs! I would not be the person I am today if it weren’t for me holding onto my true inner self as an autistic individual who sees the world differently.
In conclusion, while many people have their own interpretation of what autism means to them, being able to value and cherish who you are as a child as well as remember your inner true self as an adult is what autism means to me. For Autism Acceptance Month, I want you all to value and cherish who you are as an autistic individual and always remember your true inner selves as you get older. Cherish the unique way you see the world, cherish the person you are as an individual, and cherish ‘The Little Prince’ within you.