Respectful Parenting in an Ableistic World

Content Warning: This post includes ABA and descriptions of children being abused.



Yesterday, I saw a twitter thread about parents being abusive to their autistic children. It’s a really important thread about how normalized abusive, ableistic parenting is, and how horrible it is to see parents talking about their autistic children as if they lacked humanity. As a response to this, some people claim “not all parents to autstic kids are like this”, and I want to write about that.

It is somehow true, there are parents of autistic children who aren’t abusive. Parents who don’t do ABA and focus on our children’s well-being instead of gettin them to pass as non-autistic. I want to think of myself as one of those parents. Still, I find it problematic to claim that I’m not one of the abusive parents, because I think it would be dangerous to state that and settle.

Being a parent to an autistic child means that I have to choose to not be the abusive parent every day. Sometimes, I even have to fight for it. Not because I want to be that parent, but because where I live, treating autistic children as dehumanized objects who should be corrected until they pass as non-autistic is what’s recommended by most professionals. It’s the core value that most professionals base their work on, because ABA is considered the only evidence-based approach. Almost every time I’m in contact with medical staff or somebody regarding my child’s school, I’m marinated in this horrible ideology. I don’t do what they want me to do, I know that they are wrong, but I think that being surrounded by this ideology can affect me anyway. As horrible as this is to think of, I think there is a risk that I at some point could be pressured enough by this ableistic society to give in to professional’s pressure. Let me explain why.

If my child’s school would become inaccessible or abusive to the point where he can’t attend school (very common where I live), I will be questioned as a parent. When social workers find out that we don’t practise the abusive parenting that is widely recommended, we could be deemed unfit parents and risk having our child taken away from us. I know parents who have carried their screaming, kicking, panicking kids to school, because if they don’t do that social workers have threatened to take their kids away, which would be even worse. Sometimes in these situations, social workers make parents take parent training courses in ABA-inspired methods, and make the parents practise this with their children in order to get them to school. So-called experts that teach parents to take away everything that their children like, and only give it to them when they have been to school. This is one of my constant fears.

I also think that given the fact that I grew up undiagnosed, I didn’t learn as a child what supporting autistic children means. Nobody helped me when I suffered from autistic burnouts as a result of lack of support and an inaccessible school. Nobody taught me how to deal with sensory overload or the tremendous confusion about everything, all I learned was to always try a bit more and work a bit harder. When I collapsed it was somehow my fault, not that I understood how. This means that I have to work harder now, and not do what adults did to me.

To not end this post in hopelessness, I want to mention what actually made me question the ableistic ideology, even before it was clear that my kid was autistic. Because despite these lousy circumstances, something made me say no and fight for my child already when he was a baby. It was the stories I had read in blogs by autistic adults, before my child was born. Stories teaching me that autism isn’t a tragedy and that meaningful, good lives are possible for autistic people. These stories were scary because it became clear to what extent autistic children are let down by parents, schools and healthcare, but they also gave me a certain amount of hope. For that I’m forever grateful, because the autistic bloggers probably saved me from being one of the abusive parents.


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