This week, I have been reading about the anger from within “Natural” circles toward Sesame Street having a new (digital) muppet.
This muppet is named Julia and she is autistic. She is presumably supposed to help autistic children because there is representation of their neurology on a cool tv program. (And since autistic children are often locked in cages, enrolled into compliance therapies, described as “not able to communicate”, abused by their parents, have blogs and media segments dedicated to how awful they are to live with and how they ruined their family because they exist, killed because they’d be ‘better off dead’, and stuff like that – being on tv as a liked character is a nice change.).
The reason that many in these “Natural” circles are upset, is because they don’t think it is right to be – in any way – celebrating or normalising autistic people. It is a ‘tragedy’ and ‘sad’ that children are autistic in the first place, according to them.
Often, in communities like these when I meet parents who have autistic children, I see a lot of fear and sadness. I don’t see a lot of real happiness and I don’t hear of thriving children (unless in the context of ‘healing’). I don’t hear parents sharing happy moments (unless it is linked to how their children seem not so autistic anymore), and I don’t hear of contentment (unless linked to the ‘hope’ that one day life will be different). I hear of struggling families, misery, despair, and lack of connection. This is blamed upon the fact that their children are autistic. I hear of conditional kinds of happiness, whereby moments may be fleetingly joyful but only in relation to specific constraints. Happiness seems to rely on something outside of the inner, depending upon whether children are fitting the mould that has been decided to be ‘normal’ and ‘superior’.
Many times, I have interacted with people who believe that being autistic is caused by toxins, and who are on a kind of crusade to ‘educate’ others about this. These times, and also this time regarding Julia, I have been shocked at the level of disrespect this kind of attitude can naturally cause toward autistic people. It wouldn’t even necessarily be conscious, but when you believe a person to be a kind of half-person, or if you believe that someone is damaged; this is going to skew your interactions with them and detract from authenticity and respect. If you are pathologising someone, this is going to be a barrier to genuine connection.
If you are raising your autistic child with the belief that they are inherently faulty, poisoned, damaged, ‘shells’ of who they ‘should’ be, not really human, or similar- this is probably not how to be a good and compassionate parent. It isn’t likely that we will be able to have an authentic relationship with someone if we are trying to fix them, or if the principles we stand for are more important to us than, or contradict, connection and love and respect. If it is more important to a person to use their child as an example of a theory than it is to connect with them as they are – then this is going to detract from family happiness.
I am pleased with who I am as an autistic individual, and with the brain that I have. I am genuinely glad to be me. But people actually regularly delight in telling me that I shouldn’t feel that way; that this happiness is wrong. I am ‘brain damaged’ and ‘have a neurological disorder’, a ‘condition’, according to them. I should be angry that something made me this way, not happy to have the brain that I do. I should be, apparently, living each day with the constant belief that something is wrong with me.
I am also living a truly happy life with my autistic children. I wake up each morning and feel blessed for all the love within my little home. (I believe that my children are joyful too). I don’t feel that my life sucks or is negative or inherently problematic. And yet I am told, again and again, by these people who are supposedly more enlightened than I, that I am wrong or ill-informed, that I lack the ability to think deeply about my conditioning, or that my ‘head is in the sand’. These comments come from different people, yet they are always the same. The ‘education’ they provide is never anything new. Their ‘evidence’ (which is usually the rise in autism diagnoses) is not compelling.
Loving our autistic children with wild abandon is so easy to do if we really tune in to our natures (surely nothing could be simpler than loving our children!)! However, in this world where autism is hated and spoken of with disdain in the same breath as serious health conditions like cancer; it has become something unusual to love our autistic children in the fullest sense of the word – in this unconditional sense that they are who they are supposed to be. How is it that loving our children wholly is seen as radical?! It is also curious to me that seeing our own beautiful children as ‘damaged’ is supposedly more progressive than the alternative of seeing them as worthy and valid people, just as they are.
And so, I would like to know – as I type these words while my children swing, giggling, on the Hills Hoist – how can it be that I am the ignorant one?