There has been much discussion on Twitter this week from autistic advocates questioning the way some parents at times refer to their autistic children in terms of their problems, challenges or behaviours.
I think perhaps what is not understood however is that, as a parent you are fed this narrative by the professionals who come into contact with your child from the start and it becomes so engrained that it gets difficult to shake off..
The reason many parents (including myself ) use/have used terms such as challenging behaviour, refusal, socially awkward etc are because these were the terms we were fed from day one. I have never come across a professional personally who has said ‘Your child is autistic, learn about autism and accommodate their needs and life will be better for you both. Accept and love your child for who they are and all the incredible and unique things about them.’No rather the professional approach is generally about training children in social skills, teaching standard responses, attempts to ‘normalise’ them and to make them functional in the ‘real’ world.
The attitude toward my son was always seemed to be that he was in some way broken and that if I chose to listen to him and accommodate his way of being then, I was somehow complicit in that brokenness and, as a good parent I should want to try and improve him, to make him cope, not to give in to his disability defining him, and that I should teach him to paper over his cracks ( his autistic traits) and make him appear acceptable to the world and capable of blending so that he could lead a ‘normal’ life.
Everything is wrong with this perspective…
Firstly my son is not broken, he does not need to be fixed. Like all children he needs to be loved and accepted, understood and appreciated for who he is. He deserves an environment suitable for him to thrive not to be shoe-horned into one that doesn’t fit by forcing compliance even when the situation is hurting him.
My son should not be striving to make himself acceptable to the world, the world should be accepting and accommodating of all people.
I do not want a normal life for my son I want the opportunities for him to have the extraordinary life he deserves and is capable of having because of his unique outlook and gifts. My son is not challenging, he simply finds different aspects of life more challenging than some people and other aspects less so.