This post includes mentioning of ABA, puzzle pieces and functioning lables
Dear Autism Parents,
We need to talk again. At least I want to talk to you.
Just like you, I’m a parent of an autistic kid. Yes, you probably prefer “child with autism”, but for once, let’s not focus on that. Let’s focus on autistic minds, and what your neurotypical perspectives do to all autistic people around you.
I’m a parent of an autistic kid, and I’m autistic myself. This means that every time you express how angry or sad you are about what you think that autism is doing to you, you don’t only assign blame to your child, you also tell all autistic people of all ages around you that you blame people like us. That you blame the way we react to food and noisy environments, how we process information and how we express ourselves, for causing you discomfort and pain.
You are entitled to your feelings, and so am I, and therefore I will tell you how I feel about your behavior.
Just like you many of you, I sometimes seek out other parents of autistic children in an effort to give my kid the best life i could possibly imagine. I might try to work with you to advocate for more accessible schools and healthcare, because just like you, I don’t want my kid to get PTSD just from going to school. However, I’ve realized that I’m not welcome in your world. When you talk about how autism has destroyed your life, you make it very clear that you are blaming autistic people, instead of focusing on ableist structures. What’s even worse is that you center neurotypical, allistic and ableist views and make me feel ashamed for the way I communicate. I know that you are doing this because you are suffering from knowing that your kid is suffering, but I urge you to think of this: When you are promoting ableist ideas, you are making life worse for your kid and all autistic people. It doesn’t matter how great your intentions are – when you call the need for accessibility “special needs”, when you use functioning lables and when you spread puzzle pieces and refer to autistic people as “mysteries to solve” – you dehumanize us. Dehumanization feeds ableism. We will never have an accessible society that respects autistic people as long as we are dehumanized.
But you know what? There’s another option. You have an autistic child, but you don’t have to see autism as a disaster. It’s totally possible for you to direct you anger and grief to the ableism that’s making life hell for your kid. Because you know – autism isn’t a disaster, ableism is.
I know that it’s hard. Just like you I have been fed all those ableist ideas about autism from healthcare professionals. Just like you I was told that I have to put my kid through ABA, “otherwise he could never grow up”. I’ve had doctors, nurses, psychologists and social workers telling me all those lies about how meltdowns are just a way to avoid demands, that my kid has to be taught not to stim and that putting in a lot of time on behavioral therapies is necessary if I want to give my kid any chance of ever having a good life. But the thing is, none of that is true. You have the option of looking beyond ableist ideas and start paying attention to what autistic people are trying to tell you.
If you decide to start paying attention to what autistic people are saying, you will learn that our lives have meanings. That we connect with each other, we have meaningful relationships and we are able to experience joy and happiness. You will also learn that we are harmed and hurt by an ableist world trying to normalize us, and that will probably not be a pleasant reading to you. When you read about all the violence and abuse we experience, remember that you can be a part of putting an end to it. By refusing the ableist ideas that a lot of healthcare professionals are promoting, and instead listening to autistic people to learn about autism, you can make a difference.
It’s your choice.