Dear Autism Parent,
You so often make a point that you’re “just worrying about your child’s future” when you come down on the side of negativity. My child is nonverbal, you say. Autism Speaks is just forecasting what their future probably will be like. I have special worries.
Every good parent worries about their child’s future, but it’s important to realize what that future could be. Whether their child is neurotypical or not – that’s simply being a good parent. And when you make it about you, when you think about your worries, you are casting blame on your child for being autistic. That isn’t being a good parent at all. Sorry.
While autism can be really hard to deal with both for the autistic person and for their family, it doesn’t mean that they’re sentenced to never progress – only that they probably won’t succeed to the highest levels in a neurotypical sphere. We have to make our own, and we need help and acceptance to do it, not pity. Does that make sense?
For better or worse, your child is autistic – and many parents (I don’t know if you are among them or not) try to separate their child from the autism. As if it’s just hiding a perfect normal kid underneath. Of course it’s true that autistic people don’t communicate the same way that allistic or neurotypical people do. But the thing is … so what? What are you (general you) going to do? The choices are to keep trying to expect a child to magically become able to speak or communicate and/or think like a neurotypical, or to accept that they are different and try to find a different way of communicating. Young kids can’t understand that reality, but parents can. Adult autistics can. People who know better can accept an autistic person’s way of communicating – AAC, sign language, typing, whatever. I know a woman who recently posted a photo of a letterboard tattoo* she got so her son could communicate with her no matter where they are. All behavior is communication – if your child is nonverbal but might grunt at you from time to time, or bang his head, that’s communication. It just (obviously) might take more help to decode. But it’s autistic behavior, not neurotypical behavior, because your child is not neurotypical. There is no point in feeling frustrated because your child can’t talk – I’m pretty darn sure they can communicate another way, and you can find it, with the right help and hope.
I accept that you might want to cure your son or daughter, and really, that’s your prerogative. But right now, in real life, you have an autistic child, and I am autistic, and a cure isn’t going to happen anytime soon. I accept that you might want to cure your child because being autistic in this society is hard, and you might think it’s easier to “cure” them than to make society show us respect – but I think the reverse is more true. I really do. It’s of course totally understandable that parents want the best for their children – but when “the best” is to be “normal”, we have to accept that that isn’t going to happen. We have to toss that paradigm out the window and do the best we can with the one we have. There is no cure right now, and I don’t believe there will be one in my lifetime. The avenues they are pursuing right now are not helpful, they are harmful – ABA “normalizing” therapy. Chelation. “Quiet hands.” All of these are designed to shove square pegs into round holes. Why not make round holes instead?
Suzanne Wright, meanwhile, is blind to that possibility that we are in a different paradigm – she doesn’t even understand that there’s a whole different playing field for autistics. She measures us by NT standards, finds us failing, and immediately jumps to the conclusion that we are useless, or tragic. Good for nothing but pain. She has no idea that there even is another playing field that’s just as good and well kept.
You can either dwell on the negativity of having a cure that may never come, or you can accept that this is your child. I know personally what I would rather do.
I still get the impression, rightly or wrongly, that you still wish your child was ‘normal’. Of course, I can’t tell you what to think or feel. But what I can tell you is that there’s no separating the autism from the child. And just because they’re autistic or I am or Amy Sequenzia or Carly Fleischmann or any of the other non-speaking activists I’ve come across does not mean they’ll never going to amount to anything. Only that they may not measure up in neurotypical eyes. And you can take that fact and let it eat you, or you can help them be the very best autistic person they can be.
Sometimes I get confused and mixed up about my own place in the autistic movement, I have to say. I don’t want us to ever be “separate but equal”; we are not X-Men, we are not freaks. But we also have an identity as autistics that deserves respect – most of all, especially from, people like parents. Your child may succeed without the power of neurotypical speech, but they’re a lot less likely to succeed in life without love or even respect from the parents who are supposed to love them.
I am greater than Suzanne Wright believes I can be. And I assure you, so is your child. Accept them for who they are, and believe it.
* Image from the Autism Women’s Network Facebook group; will be removed if the poster asks.