Sunday, March 17, 2013
I often feel like the doctor when I'm talking to other parents about autism. Especially when I hear people saying things like "With this therapy/diet/cure, my child is in regular classes! He never stims! People say they can't even tell that he's on the spectrum!"
First, it makes me sad for their child. Because the implied message is "My child now appears normal! Isn't that great?" If their child is happy and able to do this with his or her self esteem intact, great. I just wonder how hard that child is working to keep up appearances. I wonder if they ever get the message of acceptance and unconditional love. I'm not saying these parents don't love their children, in fact, I'm sure that they do. It's just very hard to get the message that you are amazing just as you are, when you are rewarded for acting like something that you are not.
Secondly, people who push certain therapies or various "cures" and diets because of the spectacular normalizing results they've had tend to forget that autism is our neurology. It is how we experience life on this planet. Autistic people are constantly growing, adapting, changing and learning just like every other human. At their own pace, in their own way. In addition, most of the evidence that diets, "cures", and therapies even work (and by work, I mean to eliminate autistic symptoms) are anecdotal and situational. I'm not saying that some therapies aren't great at helping people with their challenges and to adapt to what can often be a pretty hostile world to autistics. I'm just saying 8 hours a day of ABA when you are four years old leaves very little time left to just be a kid. Learning with your child from a place of respect for his humanity and dignity, that's great. Forced compliance in attempts to eliminate autism....not so much. The therapy should be about helping your child with challenges, not changing them into someone they are not. Unfortunately, the latter is what many parents want.
I think it is hard for many people to understand just how hard it is to grow up being told that the way you are is fundamentally wrong. How can you grow up loving and accepting yourself when you are constantly taught forced compliance? When instead of any efforts being made to understand you and the unique ways in which you communicate, you are trained to "act normal"? The answer is: you can't. I realize this goes into deeper societal problems, like our inability to see children in general as individuals deserving of respect and compassion. That, along with how we infantilize those with disabilities, especially those with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
The first step in eliminating much of that is simply acceptance. It starts by just learning to appreciate each human for who they are and how they communicate, which doesn't seem like that controversial an idea to me.