Writing this is not going to be easy for me, and, due to its controversial nature might not be well-received or easy to read. Fair warning: it is going to talk about matters such as eugenics, infanticide, abortion, and the holocaust.
Spend any amount of time online in autistic spaces and you’ll notice a very strange thing, there is a clear divide between autistic individuals and the neurotypical people who care for autistic people. You’d think NT parents and carers of autistic people would welcome the input of autistic adults but often, what you see instead, is autistic people getting angry and insulting the parents and carers while the carers close their ears to the adult autistic voices, throwing about functioning labels and getting very upset that autistic people think they have a right to “stick their oar in” and comment upon their parenting. Tempers are usually flared, emotions are high and these places that could be so beneficial to all end up becoming battlegrounds with neither side winning.
Why do autistic people get so upset about “Autism Parents”?
(Please note: when I say “Autism Parents”, I do mean a very specific set of people, I do not just mean parents -neurotypical or otherwise- of autistic children, I mean parents who martyr themselves; the parents who go online every day to complain about how damned hard parenting their neurodiverse child is; the parents who share intimate details about potty-training and puberty; I’m talking about the parent who, to all intents and purposes, seems to hate their own child, indeed many of them do say things like, “I don’t hate my child, I hate her autism!” as if the autism can be removed from the child without completely changing who the child is. Hint, if you say you don’t hate your child but you do hate their autism then, in fact, you do hate your child.)
Last night, I was talking to my husband about the holocaust and I started explaining how all countries were practising eugenics* prior to the 1940s but, after the liberation of the Nazi death camps, the world woke up to how wrong that was and quietly put a stop to it, placing all the blame squarely at the door of the Nazis, history is, after all, written by the winners. I then said how there’s still very much a culture of eugenics in the disabled world, quoting, for reference, the fact that Down Syndrome has almost disappeared in Iceland** because of people aborting their babies if tests pick up on DS. I then said about how many autistic children are murdered by their parents and how the media always portrays it as “poor parent pushed to edge by Evil Child”. I’m clearly very passionate about the neurodiversity movement and about autistic people being accepted as they are and not being forced to change to make neurotypical people happy but, apparently, I hadn’t talked as much about this dark underbelly of the autism world as I thought because my husband had never noticed this trend and wasn’t sure he even believed me that it existed. So we Googled “autism child murder” and the wealth of articles that came up about kids murdered by their parents was shocking, and every single one used phrases like “parent pushed to limit”, “tragedy as overwhelmed mother kills autistic son”. The blame was not being placed on the murderers but on their child victims. The parents who had murdered their children were being hailed as martyrs and their children cast as demonic villains who had caused their murder by being such damned abominations.
And this is the problem with the specific type of Autism Parent I mentioned above. They perpetuate this myth that autistic people are horrible, difficult, nasty individuals. They spend hours on the internet bashing their children and that feeds into this victim-blaming that seems so common today. I get it, parenting is hard, but parenting any child is hard, it’s not just neurodiverse kids who play up; my neurotypical child is probably the loudest and naughtiest of the three! I’m not saying that Autism Parent forums and groups are wrong, parents should have a safe space to vent and let go of their frustrations, but I am saying that specifically blaming autism for children’s behaviour and posting personal details or having entire blogs and Facebook pages about how hard parenting a child on the spectrum is is harmful to autistic people, so are the newspapers that report murders as if they’re the victims’ fault (hence my not linking any of these sources directly here, but if you don’t believe me, a quick google search will bring up hundreds of these articles).
I believe one major reason NT parents find their ND children so hard to understand is that we are trying to change who our neurodiverse children are, some of these poor children are subject to 40 hours of intense therapy a week on top of their usual school etc. and this therapy isn’t really therapy at all, it’s thinly disguised dog training aimed at forcing the child to hide who they really are. Essentially, it is just teaching children to mask which is incredibly detrimental to their mental health and probably a huge factor in many of the behaviour problems that parents see in their autistic children.
Removing the pressure to masquerade as neurotypical can be wonderfully freeing for an autistic person and can make the whole experience of caring for them much more pleasant. To give an example of the positive changes that removing social performative pressure can have, take my eldest kid: A few years ago her behaviour was off-the-wall. She was constantly distracting the teachers at school, hurting herself, running away, and telling me she wanted to die. I was lucky that I was in a position where I could pull her out of school and home-educate her. Free from the pressures of school, and allowed to completely be herself, she has flourished and is now a very happy, confident, intelligent, and utterly hilarious little person.
What a difference a couple of years of being yourself makes: from hiding under a blanket all day, to happily playing silly games with younger siblings.
After I published this and as if to prove my point, I came across this on Facebook:
*Source: Neurotribes: pg. 117-128.