It’s rare for parents to respect their autistic children. Many believe they are respectful; but if you believe that your child is disordered or damaged, how respectful is that really?
I live by the Neurodiversity Paradigm. It’s a base of thinking that involves the deep respect of neurodivergent people (which includes autistic people and other minority neurologies). This is a challenge to the assumption that atypical neurologies are inherently medical, and that there is such a thing as a “normal” or “right” brain. All brains are beautiful!
As I write this, I am standing in my messy, cluttered kitchen. There is a leak from the kitchen tap and the incessant flowing sound of water hitting the bottom of the sink is annoying but not unbearably so. My baby is on my back, wrapped safely to me. Two of my autistic children are crouched in our gravel driveway, playing with rocks and a spinning top. One of my autistic children is snuggled under a green blanket watching episodes of Pokemon. The other is out walking with their (autistic) dad. My life feels calm, beautiful, and happy.
In our family life, my children laugh and play together, devise games together, snuggle in close to me to read stories, and listen with delight when I talk about myself as a child and about my memories from when they were babies and before they were born. My children are not in therapy, I have never tried to ‘heal’ them nor assumed that there was even something to be healed, I do not punish or shame them, and we believe that being autistic is a just a way to live and be – not some medical issue or disease or disorder or condition.
It has been almost 6 years now since I first realised that my daughter was autistic. It has been 6 years of unlearning and relearning and thinking deeply and loving with wild abandon and trust and sometimes without knowing where any of my decisions would lead. I started out not understanding much at all, apart from that my daughter was capable and needing specific support, and that people didn’t want to talk to me about autism because they were afraid of it and because they thought it was bad.
I said to someone that I thought my daughter was autistic.
“There’s nothing wrong with her!”, they snapped back instantly, indignant.
Because people DO think that being autistic and being broken are intertwined inseparably. This is assumed so deeply and so automatically that there is not even a conscious decision to assume as such; it’s just the default. People treat this opinion as something they know, not something they believe.
In those early days, I teased apart those two things – being autistic and being broken. I teased them apart and I threw away the broken one. My autistic children are not broken. And once I could see that being autistic and being broken were not one and the same, were not synonyms, partners, or innately mashed together; my life began to become more beautiful. I was protected, and my children were protected, from the fear and the ableism that met us as we lived.
When the professionals we met for diagnosis were afraid for my kids’ futures, we were okay. When our extended families were dismissive, we were okay. When our friends and acquaintances were horrified and pitying, we were okay. When we met other families who had autistic children; families who chose intense ABA or thought their kids were poisoned; families who ‘accepted’ their lot in life rather than being glad; families who tried to ‘fix’ their kids; families who thought disrespecting their child was fine because of how hard it is having a child ‘with autism’ – we were okay. When we went to seminars and conferences and heard only deficits-based language and opinions of punishment and compliance training, we were okay. When we participated in Natural Parenting communities and were told, over and over, that our kids could be ‘recovered’ or had been affected by chemicals, we were okay. When we began unschooling and regularly had other unschoolers telling us that our children had been poisoned, were an epidemic, or were casualties of a conspiracy – we were okay. All along this road, we have been okay!
All along we have kept loving. All along we have seen our children as perfect and valid, just as they are. We are constantly searching for a better way to live, always. No matter how much I think I know, how much I have learned, how little I have learned or how far I may have to go – I keep searching, always and every day. Every year, I get a little wiser. Every year, I get a little calmer. Every year, I am further away from where I started.
You can take this road too! You can take this road, of searching for a better way to live. It may be less travelled but all are welcome. Even if you haven’t learned much about it yet, you’re welcome. No matter where you are now, you are welcome here.