The Parent Movement and Self-Diagnosis

Content: This post contains ableism.

 

Recently, I’ve been getting som pieces of hope regarding the movement of parents to neurodivergent kids. I’ve seen autistic parents speak up about the ableism within the parent movement and even though it has mostly been met with silence or total dismissal, I thought that maybe some kind of change is happening. Then I got a reminder of how bad the situation actually is.

Where I live, most parents to neurodivergent kids don’t know what ableism is. There is no organization for self advocacy for autistic or neurodivergent people, only one for people with specifically Asperger’s syndrome and they are very ableist themselves, not wanting to have anything to do with people with people with intellectual disabilities or people with what they consider a too big support need. The big discussion point in media is if autism and ADHD really exist or if it’s just made up by Big Pharma and lousy parents who can’t control our kids. Autism Parents are not used to being questioned by autistic adults and the parent movement is so permeated by ableism that it seems impossible for most of the parents to even imagine advocacy without ableism. Neurodiversity isn’t only misunderstood, most Autism Parents haven’t even heard of it.

The other day, I was also reminded of how the concept of self-diangosis is basically non-existing where I live. Despite the fact that there are multiple factors that will decide if a formal diagnosis is possible or not, even so-called self-advocates often refuse to see the need to recognize self-diagnosis. I came out as a self-diagnosed autistic and was basically told that it couldn’t be recognized and it hurt. It hurt more than I expected. It hurt because even if I wasn’t expecting miracles, I had some hope for this specific context and group of people. When a person in charge declared that they didn’t care at all about all the reasons why a formal diagnosis isn’t possible for all autistic people, I was a bit disappointed.

Because how can you declare wanting to empower neurodivergent people but only those privileged enough to get a formal diagnosis? How can you refuse to care about for instance the racism, ableism and sexism that keep a lot of neurodivergent people from being diagnosed? I don’t understand how anybody can defend throwing some people under the bus in a struggle for empowerment and against oppression.

This is so typical and one of the reasons for why I’m creating more and more distance between myself and most other parents of neurodivergent kids. I work hard on dealing with all my internalized ableism, not only for the sake of my kid but also for my own well-being. Being around Autism Parents and the rest of the parent movement is too much of a reminder of why I should hate myself.

I’m Your Alien

I will never forget the first time I met with a nurse at a clinic for autistic children. Six months earlier my child had been diagnosed  as autistic and a referral letter was sent to this clinic. Now we were finally here, me and my partner. My expectations weren’t that high but I knew they had occupational therapists and I was hoping that they could help us make the preschool our kid attended more accessible. We had a fairly good cooperation with the teachers but it was hard work to do on our own, and I thought that getting some help to increase accessibility and support would improve my kid’s health by decreasing his stress level.

One of the first things that the nurse told us was “These children rely heavily on motivation to learn new skills”.

I froze. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why but there was something in this sentence that made me highly uncomfortable. Obviously a part of it was the motivation thing, since it’s a central part of ABA and that wasn’t something we wanted, but there was something more that made me react. There was something in how this nurse talked about autistic kids. “These children…” they were the Others. They were not a part of us.

During the rest of our meeting she talked about autistic kids in the same way, creating a distance between us parents and our autistic kid. At this point I wasn’t clear about that I was autistic, but I had my suspicions. I couldn’t articulate it but I was very uncomfortable and somewhere in my head a thought kept repeating itself: You are talking about me. These kids you are talking about like aliens, I’m one of them. I’m one those people you don’t consider a complete human being.

What I Want My Child to Learn: Boundaries

Dear child,

As you grow up, I want you to learn that there are people who respect your bodily integrity. This means that we make an effort to understand your boundaries, and because of that we will have a better chance of truly respecting them. I will never force you to, or reward you for looking me in the eyes or hugging me. I will set an example by not hugging people when I don’t feel like it. I hope that this will teach you that when you encounter somebody who doesn’t respect your boundaries, you will be able to understand that there is an option and you can say no to having this person in your life.

Navigating Services Is Hell Because of Ableism, Not Because of Autism

Dear parents of autistic children, we need to have a talk about why it can be so hard to be a parent of an autistic kid.

A couple of days ago I tweeted saying that parents should stop blaming their autistic kids for everything that’s hard in their lives, and somebody responded saying that navigating services for disabled children is a nightmare. Since I’m not only disabled myself, but also have an autistic kid, I know this very well. Because no, it’s not enough that most services offered are useless, me and my partner are expected to run to a hell of o lot of meetings to get information about certain services. It’s the same information over and over, about services that are of no use to us, but they work as gatekeeping to other kinds of services (the latest is that we’re applying for services for me, because of worsening of my ME and that means that my partner has to go to one more meeting about services for my kid). As if it wasn’t enough that we have to spend so much time and energy on useless and inaccessible meetings, getting what we actually need seems almost impossible. My kid needs an accessible school, but that’s nobody’s responsibility. My kid needs accessible healthcare for his astma and hypermobile joints, but that’s really not a service that exists. I know very well that navigating services can be very demanding and frustraing.

But. That’s not because our child is autistic.

The reason for why navigating services is hell is because of an ableist society who has created a very ableist system of services for disabled people.

How services are organized differs between different countries which means that what I will describe here might not apply to all of you, but I will give you a couple of examples of how, where I live, services for disabled people are organized based on ableist ideas.

  • Services are based on the idea that disabled people, especially autistic children, should aim at making them less deviant.
  • Disabled people need to prove that we need the services we apply for, while people without disabilities have access to plenty of services that they get without having to prove their need for them. Because of ableist propaganda claiming that disabled people cheat a lot to get services we really don’t need, it’s seen as normal that service applicants have to exhaust ourselves and give up our integrity to apply for, and then maintain services.
  • The application process for many kinds of services means a loss of integrity. A whole bunch of people will demand access to medical records, ask very personal questions that really have nothing to do with the service (sex life, genitals, toilet habits) and sometimes demand to inspect and scrutinize the service applicant in intimate situations such as showering, toilet visits etc.
  • Bureaucracy isn’t well coordinated and different institutions are responsible for different kinds of services, and they don’t communicate with each other, meaning that service applicants have to repeat the same information many times and coordinate infromation between different institutions. This takes a lot of time and energy and usually means that a person without disabilities has to be involved in applying for and then implementing and maintaining services.
  • A lot of autism experts and other people who claim to work for autistic (and other disabled people) defend this system, basically telling autistic people that we lack judgement when we protest against this system.

This system makes it very hard to be disabled and care for a disabled child, but it doesn’t have to be like this. The fact that this is what it means navigating services is a consequence of political decisions. Ableist decisions. Because if disabled people weren’t seen as cheaters and burdens with less value that non-disabled people, we could organize a more accessible society where services was administered in a different way. A respectful and easier way with focus on integrity and autonomy.

My Mom Is an Autism Expert and I Don’t Trust Her to Take Care of My Autistic Child

Content Notion: This post describes detailed practices that are often a part of ABA, ableist treatments for autistic people and ignoring of enbies.

 

After years of increasing problems with my mom, I’ve told her that I don’t want her to help out by taking care of my kid anymore. This is a very sad decision both for me and my kid, because parts of her time with my kid have been good. However, her lack of respect came to a point I couldn’t take and after many conversations with her, that totally drained me without improving the situation, I gave up. She constantly crosses my boundaries and she has no understanding of what my kid needs and this leads to her causing a lot of practical problems and poor health for my kid, me and my partner. This kind of ‘help’ is something I definitely don’t have room for. There are so many things that hurt us in this, and in this post I will focus on one of them: the brainwashing of Autism Experts™.

When I grew up my mom worked with something completely different, but around the time my kid was born she started to work with disabled (mostly autistic) children. She had no background in working with disabled people at all and I have no clue how this happened, but it did. Her employers have over the years given her some education and this is unfortunately the shallow kind of manuals based on ABA, because ABA-based approaches and ‘therapies’ are standard practice were we live. In the beginning she was worried about that she didn’t have a theoretical framework but after a while, this wasn’t a problem anymore.

During these years my mom has worked with autistic children in different settings. Mostly in schools and short term living facilities. These are the kind of places were this scenario regarding staff is very common, people without experience and education are hired because they seem to fit for some reson. It doesn’t make sense to me, but it’s reality.

The result of my mom’s ‘education’ about autism is horrific. Like most people working with autistic people (or as they say, people with autism), she doesn’t question ABA and its fundaments at all. She is critical to parts of it but she doesn’t seem to even be aware of the assumptions ABA is based on, like that autistic people aren’t real people. Further, she doesn’t engage with autistic adults as sources of information – as people who are experts on autism – and therefore she is completely in denial about how many autistic people who are adults today suffer tremendously from growing up with ABA.

The only reason for why I’ve allowed her to take care of my kid despite this is that she doesn’t really believe that he is that autistic, meaning that she treats him better than the autistic children she works with. Since she is great with him in some ways, I’ve tried to compromise. But, as good as parts of their time together might have been, it doesn’t justify some of the things she does. I don’t trust her, because neither does she respect our agreements, neither does she have an understanding of my child’s needs that is accurate enough.

So, what is my mom’s idea of how to treat autistic children?

First of all, she is very focused on observational behavior in the moment. She doesn’t show any understanding of that the consequences of lack of support and accessibility can surface after the actual situation or after participating in an activity several times. In my network of autistic families (both children and parents), it’s a fairly common trait that autistic people keep up the appearance in school or in public, and then collapse when they come home. There are plenty of testimonials about this delayed reactions out there, but my mom refuses to accept this.

The fact that a lack of accessibility and support consumes a lot of autistic people’s precious energy is something she doesn’t really acknowledge. There are tools to plan activity levels to make sure that there is enough of recovery time, but she obstructs my work with energy management for my kid by not asking beforehand if she can take my kid to an exciting museum or invite people over. She protests when I explain that these kind of activities are demanding and energy consuming to my child.

This brings us to the third point which is that she cares about observational behavior, or how similar to neurotypical it is, and ignores health. Because focusing on observational behavior in the moment and ignoring energy levels and a long term perspective on health means that my kid’s health will suffer.

As a consequence of not paying attention to health, she doesn’t acknowledge symptoms of stress, and instead she’s prone to explaining most problems with a lack of motivation. When an autistic kid is dead tired on a Monday morning and crying because the demand of brushing teeth and putting on clothes is too high, she explains this with that he or she (no other genders exist to her) isn’t being challenged enough. No matter how much information I’ve given her that explains that this can happen when the weekend has been too energy consuming, she doesn’t really believe me.

To some extent she understands the need for predictability, but she doesn’t accept that there is no universal model for this. Autistic people may very often need preparations to get a necessary amount of predictability, but how that is achieved varies greatly between different individuals. I have found ways to prepare my child (and myself) and adjust activities by preparing other people who will participate in them that work great for my kid, but since they are more elaborate than what my mom is used to, she doesn’t respect our ways. This means that she doesn’t fully respect the need for preparations and predictability.

My mom – a monster?

In the beginning of this post, I wrote that my mom lacks what’s often considered an adequate education, meaning she’s not a teacher, psychologist etc. However, the reason for why I’m writing this is because the exact same attitude and ideas are very common among the professionals* I’ve encountered, even those who are trained psychologists, teachers, doctors and what not with so-called proper educations.

As an autistic parent to an autistic child, it hurts me so badly to experience how my child is being disrespected and misunderstood in the same ways as I was as a child – by my own parent. When I see my own words in this post, my mom comes off as a horribel person, and all these issues that I’ve explained here make that true. But as with a lot of people, she’s not only horrible. She can be kind, caring and unconventional in a way that benefits autistic people too. But at the same time she does all these harmful things. This is an important lesson to me and something that I need to remember: people who treat autistic people like shit aren’t evil monsters. They are common people who may have great intentions but that doesn’t make the harm they are causing less harmful.

 


*I’ve made a correction here, before it was ‘experts’ instead of ‘professionals’. Since I consider autistic people to be the experts of autism, I made a correction.