I’ve read a lot of things lately that proclaimed to be “an honest look at our life with autism” or simply “our reality”. These posts often defend the publishing of compromising or hurtful details about autistic children because of the purported importance of sharing this reality. I want to deconstruct this idea of reality a bit.
With the prominence of social media, almost everyone has some degree of an online presence. Most people attempt to show themselves in a flattering light. Meaning, taking multiple selfies in various lighting/angles to not showcase our wrinkles, under-eye bags or double chins. Cropping out our laundry piles and unwashed dishes. Applying filters and editing photos, and so on, and so on. Don’t we owe it to our public (so to speak) to show our “reality” at all times?
We attempt to show our children, our typical children that is, in the most positive light as well. Perfectly staged photos, cozy moments prove our parenting game is strong. Few parents Instagram pictures of their kids’ tantrums or write updates about their toileting habits. That sort of stuff is glossed over and kept private, as it should be.
But yet, when it comes to autistic or otherwise disabled children, the same standards don’t seem to apply. It seems perfectly appropriate to publicly announce intimate hygiene needs. It seems appropriate, important even to proclaim in a public forum that the child hit their sibling, or made them cry (because we know that typical children never hit each other or make their siblings cry). And it is completely valid to publicly denounce their child’s autism, an integral part of their being, as something to despise or blame for ruining our otherwise flawless existence.
Bloggers who choose to protect the dignity of their children are accused of whitewashing autism or outright lying. In our “pics or it didn’t happen” culture not documenting every detail of our life is considered an act of concealment.
I ask you- do you write every detail of your life down for public consumption- when you are sick, when you are gross, when you have a hair on your chin, when you’re in a foul mood and snap at your kids to leave you alone, when you sulk at your husband for no real reason, or perhaps for a very good reason, when you’re gossiping about your neighbours or take secret glee at someone’s misfortune (oh you know it happens). Do you write a status or blog post about that? Is it dishonest not to?
Perhaps you do, and that is your right and your choice. I’d personally wager you gloss over the uglier parts and instead write about how you made cookies with your kids, then built a snowman and finished the day cuddled in a heap with mugs of steaming cocoa… or something like this.
Why do some parents feel that autistic children/people don’t need or deserve the privacy they take for themselves? Is it because some don’t speak or don’t communicate the way the parents do? Is it because they resent them as part of their lives, a confusing and disappointing part, so their snarky posts are a way to let off some steam? Is it because they are egged on by followers, praising their “honesty” and telling it “like it is”? Is it because they figure the kids don’t understand, don’t care?
However, if autistic people tell those parents- hey we understand perfectly and we do care! They are silenced, mocked and told since they understand they are not like their child and shouldn’t speak out. Often they are then described as “some angry commenters” and again their followers sprinkle their “hear, hear” and jeers.
While parenting autistic children is different than parenting neurotypical children in many ways, there are some ways that are just the same- treat them with the same respect you give your other children. If you wouldn’t post a similar anecdote about your typical child, don’t write it about your autistic child. If you wouldn’t post an unflattering pic of your other child/ren (or yourself), don’t post a picture of your autistic child in a distressed state.
As I’m writing this I keep thinking “well isn’t it obvious?”, but I guess it isn’t so let me just reiterate- autistic children are people, just like you. Treat them as such and you’ll see a marked improvement in your relations, and in relations with other autistic people as well.