A Christmas Truce

NB. Just for the sake of exactitude, a truce means a temporary cessation of hostilities. I think we all need it. 

This year, it’s seemed like every week another completely FUBAR situation has exploded in or around the autistic community. This last week or so has been no exception, with The Mighty (via donotlink) sharing a truly horrific article whose title should make you cringe: “Meltdown Bingo.” Autistic adults, understandably, responded with outrage, and several brilliantly written blog posts. Autism moms (as opposed to PACs or parents of autistic children), as one might expect, engaged in their usual bullying, silencing tactics.

I have no patience for either The Mighty’s saccharine, rancid ableism, or for martyr mommies’ ugly shtick. Both have the potential to get us killed. However, I did notice that there does seem to be one small but significant disconnect that few are addressing. And who knows, mentioning it might actually open one or two people’s eyes. So here I go.

Parents of autistic children are allowed to feel however they feel.

I know it doesn’t sound that revolutionary, but I know for a fact that there have been misunderstandings around this very statement.

Autistic adults tirelessly promote the narrative that parenting an autistic child isn’t about the parent, it’s about the child. This is true. At least in my opinion. Parenting any kid isn’t about the parent. But the disconnect seems to be that parents hearing that message don’t see the caveats. They leap from “it should be about your kid” to “you’re never allowed to have a bad day or feel bad or you’re bad.”

This is one of the few times I feel like I can speak for a large portion of the autistic community, and I can do so by saying that that’s not what we mean. I don’t know if parents are thinking in black and white (ironic) or if they think we are, but regardless, that’s the conclusion I hear so often from parents. They accuse me of wanting them to be robots, and that’s not only inaccurate, it’s just silly. Parents are human. They’re allowed to be human.

What they are not allowed, however, is to express those feelings in a way that causes active harm to their children. Many autism moms argue that by posting things like “meltdown bingo,” they are simply ‘seeking support’ or ‘trying to find the humor in a crappy situation.’ This is unacceptable in every way.

“Not expressing bad feelings in a way that causes harm to their children” is  just a restating of a responsibility that parents had already: much like doctors, the responsibility to do no harm. Would you say awful things about your neurotypical, verbal child where they could hear? If not, then why do you do it about your autistic child? Nonverbal does not mean non-cognizant.

And even if it did, you signed up to love and care for this child when you decided to become a parent. You don’t get to abrogate that responsibility just because they hit you or because they have toilet issues or can’t speak when you think they should. Or, for that matter, if they turn out to like boys or not believe in your God or anything that you didn’t want or plan for them. They are your child, and you are obligated to love them. Not necessarily like them, but love them. If you can’t do that, give them up. Foster care is better than murder.

There are myriad support groups that exist on Facebook, Pinterest, and the like, or there are groups on Meetup or other social media sites for meatspace. There are several journaling sites online, many of which are designed to provide a private place to record one’s innermost thoughts. The Affordable Care Act, NHS, or relevant equivalent likely has therapists at low cost, or universities often run clinics, staffed by psychology students, at reduced rate for those who need help. For heaven’s sake, I know a PAC whose method of working out frustration is comedy – as in, working to become a comedienne – but her humor is always about herself. Her neuroses, her mistakes, her triumphs. Instead of holding her children’s frailties out for the planet to see.

Please, parents, feel any way you need to feel. Nothing is off the table, except maybe, y’know, “homicidal.” Sad, angry, desperate, resentful, frustrated, you name it – any emotion you may have is valid and deserves expression.

It does not deserve expression in spaces where autistic people live, love and exist.

In short, we know you’re not robots – but neither are your children.

They hear everything. We hear everything. And in a year when so many have been stripped of human rights, self-worth and dignity, all autistic adults want is for you to not (intentionally or unintentionally) add to the list.

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[Image description: A town square at night. A short streetlamp is in the foreground, lit, and at back are two streets, between which is a large marketplace building, with arches on the ground floor and arched windows made of stained glass on the second story.]

I don’t hold out much hope for The Mighty – too often, when spaces are told they must make themselves safe for us, or we will leave, they let us leave. But there are parents of autistic children who do give me hope – from Diary of a Mom, to the woman who asked me if she could ask a question, and then after I consented, poured out what had to have been months and years of worry for her son. Parents like this are arguably better parents because they feel so strongly. They just know what is constructive, and what is terrifyingly destructive, both to themselves and their children.

Happy Holidays to everyone: neurotypicals, cousins, autistic people, people with autism, parents of autistic children, and yes, even to autism warrior mommies. Even the one who called me a crazy bitch yesterday. You don’t need my permission, but you have it anyway: feel however you need to feel. Act on it in a way that helps people, instead of hurts them.

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