We’ve all seen the Facebook posts from mums (and other parents) talking about their autistic children. You know the ones I mean, with phrases like “my son is autistic, BUT”, “I love my child but not their autism”, “my daughter struggles with autism but we love her regardless”. Or even worse, the ones that glorify their autistic children by calling them “unicorns” or other glittery metaphors that disregard the experiences of autistic people.
A famous Youtuber called Mark Rober is a good example of this with his recent video about his autistic son, where he explained all this things his son will never do because he is autistic. I want to talk about the damage that parents like these can have on their autistic children and the autistic community as a whole, and why autistic voices need to be heard more than their allistic parents.
I understand more than anything, the pain that may come when parents are told that their child is autistic. Many parents mourn the expectations that they had as they realise that this child may be very different from what they imagined. And they cope with this in a variety of different ways.
Some throw themselves into the community, try to educate themselves, and become prominent activists in the autistic community, trying to be a voice for their child. I understand the good intentions behind this, but the best advocates for autistic people are autistic people themselves. Parents that do this often end up talking over or suppressing autistic people because they believe that they know more about autism since they are raising an autistic child.
Others may choose denial or look for ways to resurrect the allistic child they never had. These parents, whatever their intentions may be, are dangerous. They may put their children into therapies that seek to suppress autistic traits through (sometimes) unethical methods. They feed their child supplements, herbs, or medicines that are said to “cure” or “manage” their autism. And they share these methods with other parents, encouraging this barbaric trend which teaches autistic children that they must change in order to be loved and accepted by those around them.
How does this affect us?
I consider myself lucky in many ways, that I was diagnosed as an adult. Because I do not know how my parents would have coped if I had been diagnosed as a child. I believe that they would have tried their best to help and love me. Because unknown to them, they did raise an autistic child, and they did a very good job, but maybe that was because they didn’t know and they didn’t feel the fear or uncertainty that comes from knowing.
I have heard the stories of other autistic people who were diagnosed younger, and how their childhoods affected them. From being punished for showing traits, being put in ABA therapy, or force-fed supplements, these people experienced trauma at the hands of their families. Others were smothered by their families or used as poster children to make their parents look like heroes for raising a “difficult” child. We are not here to make you look good.
I understand that every child is different and we all have different needs. I am not here to give a blanket statement on how to raise autistic children, I am just providing some insight into how your actions can affect us. If anyone reading this is a parent of an autistic child, I hope that hearing it from the perspective of an autistic person shows you how we can and should advocate for ourselves, and why we are the best at knowing what we need. If you are not an allistic parent, then I hope that this post enlightens you to the importance of autistic voices in educating others, and that you aim to listen to the autistic community more in the future.