As with most things in life it seems that there are two camps of people. In this case, there are people that support autistic people, and those who don’t. This doesn’t seem to change whether you have an autistic person in your life or not. It just seems to be one of those ‘you like them or you don’t’ scenarios.
The people that fear disabilities and fear autism in general will never like autistics. They will be considered burdens, problems, and weirdos. They will be blamed for not acting normal (whatever the fuck that means) enough or not trying hard enough. Parents or future parents that fear autism will be ableist (yes, this is ableism) enough to ponder whether a vaccine could turn their bouncing baby into a disabled child, which to them would be wholly unacceptable, because these are the same people that believe it’s better to have a dead child than a disabled one. In the end, to them, the heartbreak would be the same, so there is no sense in going through what they assume would be a lifelong struggle.
Some blame their systemic ableism on the fact that they don’t know anyone that is autistic. I didn’t know anyone that was autistic until I had my son, but I learned. That’s what a parent does. Prior to having my son, my experience with autism was the movie Rain Man. Naturally, this is not the world’s best representation of autistic people, especially since the character was based on someone with a completely different disability, and as a young mother I had no idea what to expect. I knew something about my child was different. Before the age of 2 years old, I was calling child psychologists and explaining how he was non-verbal, but nonetheless very expressive, and how he had boundless amounts of energy, often not sleeping for days. I even told them about how he was smart enough to learn how to pick locks (or take them apart altogether), so he could get outside and wander around. I was told it was me, not him. I was a young mother, and boys will be boys.
Eventually, when he started school they did testing on the kids in his class that weren’t performing in neurotypical, ways and they came back with a diagnosis of Aspergers. I was told that I took it better than any parent in the history of the career of his teacher. This is because I did research, and figured it out before they told me. I didn’t care what he had for the sake of the label. I just wanted to know what challenges would lay ahead for my son, and what we could do to accommodate him.
He’s been in and out of therapy since the age of 6 years old. He’s been on a laundry list of medicines to help treat symptoms associated with autism, despite not many medicines actually being approved for autism, specifically.
He was in public school for about a year and a half before he got pulled out. I didn’t know anything about homeschooling, but I knew my child was being harmed by the school system, and I couldn’t accept that. The school had him clean the cafeteria at lunch because he didn’t want to eat their food (his own was not acceptable lunch to their standards). Or there was the time when he came home from school and told me he needed to go out and find his real family, because a family was a mom, dad, and children. Since we lived with my mom (and this was before living with my long term partner, so it was just me), we didn’t qualify as a family. By the way, 85% of his class consisted of single parent families. It took him weeks to get over that one. If that wasn’t bad enough, one time he came home with a star on his shirt. It was to help keep track of all the “special” kids in class. He stayed home from then on, and we figured it out together.
He’s struggled a lot, especially when dealing with obsessions and addictions to things, but the thing that really bothers me is the shame he feels for being autistic. For as many struggles as we have had to find accommodations and solutions that work for him, knowing he doesn’t like himself is the hardest. It hurts knowing I cannot take that pain away for him. I can get over his need to obsess over things or to need to have things his own way, but I can’t handle that my son, my amazing, wonderful, perfect just the way he is son, would rather be anyone else he can make up in his mind, rather than being the caring, amazing autistic person his family loves named Robert.
He feels this way because people like you, the parents who see their autistic child as a burden and the society that supports this, tell him that he’s incorrect for being who he is. Society tells him that he needs to be better. He needs to try harder. If he wants things that everyone else has; a job, a partner, success, that he needs to be ‘normal’ or at least be really good at faking it. And then, if he doesn’t achieve any of these things then he didn’t try hard enough.
But it’s not his fault. It’s not any disabled person’s fault. It’s your fault. You have the option to love and accept people as they are, but you don’t. It doesn’t take any special effort for you to do so, but still, you cling to the idea of normalcy (a concept that psychologically doesn’t even exist), so much so that in some ways it’s you that has the social issue, not him…or anyone like him.
You believe that autism is a textbook definition. That autistics don’t talk, are “trapped in their minds,” are “soulless robots” that while intelligent, can’t function on a basic level. You believe that they don’t make eye-contact ever, and if they don’t it is rude and/or harmful, that they can’t have conversations even if they are verbal, and they will never be able to live independently. These are all your hang-ups. They aren’t the truth. In fact, assuming that all autistics are alike is the same systemic prejudice as believing that all men are strong while all women are weak or all Asians are good at math and all gay people are flamboyant. It’s simply untrue. These stereotypes are based on absolutes that don’t exist, and they are both harmful and hurtful.
You think that having a child with a disability means that you are somehow less perfect than you previously imagined and you project that negativity onto your child, who is quite capable of understanding your hatred of them, no matter how much or little you’ve decided they understand about emotions or life outside of their own head. So, you rationalize the idea that if something came along that could cure them, it would be for the best. Worst of all, you decide this without ever stopping to wonder what your child would want. The person with the disability. The person who is autistic themselves. Maybe they like being just the way they are. Maybe the problem is how you are looking at them. Maybe, just maybe, the problem is you.
Shame on you. Maybe no one else will say it, but I will. Shame on you for having a child and not loving them just the way they are. I love my son, and every day I wish that he loved himself half as much as I do. I wish that my feelings for him would rub off on him more than your hatred and disdain have. I wish he didn’t have to experience self-doubt because he sees you staring at him for no reason other than you have a problem with how he looks or walks or moves or talks or expresses himself. I wish that you understood that your high and mighty attitude and disgusting social behavior means that people that are perceived as different feel bad about themselves, try to change and fail (because they don’t need to change), and sometimes even kill themselves because people like you make them feel like no kind of person at all.
I hope one day you realize that your child is perfect the way they are, and that maybe if you loved them enough, your relationship would be better than it was before. Maybe it will show you that any terrible relationship you had with your child was in part due to the treatment that you expelled onto them. Whether you want to believe it or not, it is probably much harder for your autistic child to live with your obvious hatred and embarrassment of them, than it is for you to live with them.