By Ally Grace
I was an autistic child. I became an autistic teenager, and an autistic adult. Then I became an autistic parent. I came full circle when I discovered that I was a parent to autistic children. If there is one thing I have learned in a lifetime spent living as a disabled person and from seeing the world my disabled children have to deal with, it’s that our society fails enormously in respecting those who aren’t the way they expect.
I believe that parenting autistic children is not much different from parenting non-autistic children. The problem is that the culture we live in has so much disdain for people who have brains that are considered unusual. The term “neurodivergent” was coined by Kassiane Asasumasu, and describes people whose brains operate in a way, or ways, that are not the socially dominant or expected manner. Nick Walker’s article Neurodiversity: Some Basic Terms and Definitions, states that to be neurodivergent “means having a brain that functions in ways that diverge significantly from the dominant societal standards of ‘normal’.”
When it comes to autistic children, parents are surrounded by fear-based theories and opinions, including from non-autistic “experts”. As an autistic adult who has thought a lot about the hidden cost of this culture, I perceive these toxic social messages as hatred against people like me. If you live in the same world that I do and not an internet-free cabin in the forest, I bet you have heard many of the same things that I have. You know what I’m talking about – the conspiracy theories, the claims of toxins, the articles that invite you to become fearful and angry, taking you further from love and peace while claiming to bring you closer. And yet, how many of us stop to think about the real people at the centre of these discussions? How many people correctly identify that the basis of these ideas is fear and anger? I have more often experienced people defining it as enlightenment or information. But while I am living a life alongside my disabled children that is full of love, nurturing, and joy, it does not seem like the families buying into fear are more enlightened or informed at all.
I believe that we could challenge the entire notion that there is anything wrong with autistic people in the first instance.
Many people don’t believe they are doing something hateful when they are discussing why their child (or others) may be the way they are. However, this is a targeted kind of discussion that has very dark undertones, and is perceived almost universally as discriminatory by autistic people.
I believe that we could challenge the entire notion that there is anything wrong with autistic people in the first instance. I know this opinion isn’t a popular one, but I think it makes the most sense. For one thing, think about the possible thought process or happiness level for a parent raising an autistic child while believing something poisoned them. Now imagine the alternative of a parent raising their autistic child thinking that they’re just fine with the brain they have, that they are wonderful, and that their child is who they are supposed to be. Who would we be without the belief that our autistic kids are broken?