A reader posed an interesting question to me earlier this morning, in a comment thread on a previous post.
“No one gets mad at NT parents when they say this is hard or when their child struggles with something and so they have to give extra attention to them to resolve the issue. Why attack Autism parents for the same thing?”
Assuming the reader means “parents of non-autistic individuals” when they say “NT parents”… let’s break this down as kindly as possible (and feel free to chime in, autistic friends reading this):
You are not giving your autistic child extra attention. You are giving them the attention they require for that situation. If your non-autistic baby is learning how to talk? Are you giving them extra attention then? Or how about when they’re learning to read? Are you giving them extra attention then? No? Just different types of attention in order to learn fundamental skills? Hm.
What about when your non-autistic child enters school and starts bringing home vocabulary sheets and math workbooks? They ask you for help. Is that extra work on your behalf? Or hey, what about when they’re ten and need assistance putting together their science fair project… is that extra work on your behalf or are you just helping your child achieve their goals?
What happens when your non-autistic child requires your guidance whilst navigating the perils of puberty, over the span of say… ages 11ish until 18ish? Are you giving them EXTRA attention over those 7+ years? No, you’re giving them the attention they require to get through that time in their life, which is a normal part of growing up and figuring themselves out.
During all of that time, you’re making appointments with doctors for them, meeting with teachers and school administrators when necessary, purchasing school supplies & clothing, taking them to extracurricular activities, shuttling them between social engagements with peers, and all that comes with childhood.
So, when an autistic child is growing up and has different needs, how is that somehow extra, rather than just… different? It isn’t. It’s a different set of requirements, but not additional. Not extra.
When you use the terms like “extra”, “more”, and “harder”… it presents the child as being burdensome, as if they’re somehow taking away from your life where a non-autistic child wouldn’t have. As an autistic adult, this is exactly how it reads when I see those words. And it hurts. I hurt on behalf of your children.
If you are using those words so casually when writing online, I have to wonder if you’re using other words and phrases with the same connotation around your child. This attitude creates a negative stigma toward autism. Your child almost certainly knows they are different and hopefully they know why (they’re autistic). If you create a negative stigma toward autism, the child will then believe there is something wrong or bad about it and they may feel you resent them, for taking away from your life… causing you this “extra” work and being “harder” to raise.
It eats away at them, because throughout their life, they will be reminded regularly how different they are. If their own parent, who is supposed to love & accept them unconditionally considers them extra work and/or “harder” to manage… just imagine what the rest of the world thinks. It snowballs and gets worse… severely damaging the child’s psyche.
This post is getting pretty long so I’m going to wrap it up by saying this: before you categorize your child’s existence as “harder” or “extra” or “more difficult” please consider using words like “different” and “educational” and “more interesting”. You love your kid – or at least I hope you do – so why put a negative spin on their existence? There’s no reason to do it. It doesn’t help you, it certainly doesn’t help them. If you find ways to keep a positive mental attitude about things like this, it will help you find the positivity in even more trying situations. I promise.