We asked the Respectfully Connected community to submit questions for our authors, and this is the third in our series of eight responses. (All of the ‘You Asked’ series of posts can be found here)
Our Autistic writers respond here to Q.3, and for some of us this was one of the hardest to reflect on, and respond to. We also refer you to the communities of support and wisdom at Parenting Autistic Children with Love and Acceptance and We Are Like Your Child.
Q3. How do you, as an autistic adult, feel that your life would be different if you had been raised with the type of understanding, compassion and acceptance that you are advocating? How did the feeling that you were disordered or needing of therapy affect your life?
Anonymous: This is a really difficult and painful question to answer. I honestly think that had I been raised with the compassion and acceptance that I strive to show my children every day, I’d be a different person. Being raised to feel different, wrong and bad because of my neurology has had lifelong implications that I am only starting to unravel as an adult. I recently pursued a professional diagnosis for myself. I’ve identified as Autistic for awhile now, but because of the way I was raised, had so much self doubt that I felt my diagnosis would only be “real” if given
by an allistic professional. The irony is not lost on me.
I had horrible anxiety as a child. Horrible. I was terrified of thunderstorms and tornadoes, irrationally so. My most prominent childhood memories are of my anxiety. Knowing now what I do, multiple diagnoses later, I’m not surprised that my anxiety was that bad. I never received any kind of therapy. My feelings of not belonging, of being different, bad and wrong were more subtle. I understood from a very young age that I was different and wrong. I knew I did things differently from my family of origin, from the people around me. Despite all of this, I was the “good” child. I demanded very little of my parents. I followed the rules. I had none of the typical teenage rebellions.
When I recently mentioned to my mother about how bad my anxiety was as a child, she was shocked. She appeared to have no idea. Now with children of my own, I’m flabbergasted that a mother could be so disconnected from her child. Especially one who was struggling as much as I did. I am in no way, shape or form a parenting expert. I do not have all the answers all the time for my children. But, I am deeply connected to them on such a beautiful level. I have made many, many mistakes. I have learned and done better. I try with all my heart to accept them for who they are. There are
times when I stumble and fall. I am still learning. I am still trying to do better. I will never give up on them because I have been that child.
I will say that having labels and names that describe my neurology, that give reasons to explain why I am the way I am, has been an incredibly liberating and wonderful experience. I knew I was Autistic, but to receive other diagnoses that explained parts of me that I didn’t even know were there has been amazing. I feel like a new, reborn person in a way. A lifetime of feeling bad and wrong has been erased with the gift of a diagnosis. It’s amazing and wonderful to know that there are others out there like me.
Leia: I think I would have hidden a lot less and been more confident to find my true Autistic self and celebrate it. Then again, it was the 70s, so this might have back fired.
Cas: I answered this question in this post – Actually, I was going with the flow
Briannon: I was raised in a family with an abundance of love and a good dash of authoritarian parenting. It’s hard to tease all of this out, but I do feel that the social and family rules that were enforced in my family have ‘stuck’ and been problematic as an adult. I think this is because many Autistic people like myself rely on patterns and rules when engaging on-the-spot with people. These rules and scripts are lifelines when we don’t have the time we need to process and analyse social data. But sometimes they fail me. Rules and verbal scripts I picked up as a young child, e.g. ‘always be polite‘, ‘respect authority/elders‘, and ‘say yes‘, are implemented automatically. This has significant impacts on my ability to manage boundaries and self advocate for myself and my children.
It feels like a huge violation when I run a social rule/script in the moment, and afterwards when I process what happened, realise I have failed to be assertive or protective in the ways I need to or want to.
For this reason, I see how therapy that ‘teaches’ children to behave in certain ways and to be compliant, can have damaging impacts on people’s ability to be safe and autonomous as adults.
On the other hand, I also experienced parenting that encouraged and supported me to follow my interests as they changed over the years and I think this is as close to autism acceptance as you could get at a time when there wasn’t a lot of understanding of girls who were quiet, book obsessed, nail biting, absent-minded, socially awkward and deeply interested in cacti/social justice/ fish/politics/star trek. This acceptance of my unique strengths and interests meant that although I felt different to my peers, I never felt disordered or shamed. My sense of self worth and value as a unique human has carried through to adulthood.
Meg: I think the foremost difference is that I would have had a better sense of self-worth if I had even known as a child that I was autistic. I always knew that I was different but I didn’t know until I was an adult that it was because I was wired differently from most people – that I was, essentially, a perfectly normal autistic person. I worked really hard to understand other people but I never did. I always felt I had to hide. I was never sure that I would be loved or even liked if I let my true self show.
Also, since I was not aware that I had sensory issues, I accepted the explanation for my irritation and overwhelm that adults often gave me: I simply had a “bad attitude.”
My two goals for my children are these: that they feel loved, and that they have good self-esteem. Everything else is gravy.
* All of the ‘You Asked’ series of posts can be found here *