My Judgment Day

I don’t blame those judgmental, uneducated, and uninformed people  who frown upon me and my autistic child whatsoever. Why is that? Because I was one of them.

I always looked at those parents and unruly children and rolled my eyes in disgust. I would think, ‘how could those parents let him get away with that behavior? That kid is such a brat!’ I would assume that child had control over his/her actions and just chose to do the wrong thing.

I worked as a school social worker with autistic children, along with taking numerous classes in grad school emphasizing special needs. People sometimes say to me “well, you are lucky that you have the knowledge and the experience for dealing with autism”. I have news for you people…………none of that prepared me. I was still judgmental, and never truly understood what it really meant to deal with autism until I became an autism parent. You can hear about it all day long, and play with these kids during the day at school, but that doesn’t even come close to the daily ins and outs of autism.

Since the start of this journey, I realized how important it was to help people NOT be like me. I want to help others see autism through the child’s eyes (or the adults), and to understand before they roll their eyes……..to stop themselves from assuming the worst. I’m happy to say that I have had at least 2 friends tell me that they look at children and their behavior differently when out in public. They stop themselves from judging and think ‘that child might be autistic and may not be able to control himself.’ I had a supervisor tell me once that if I helped just one patient the entire time I worked at the hospital, I did my job. Well, I want to change more than one persons perspective. If that’s greedy, then I’m sorry….not sorry.

I realized the other day, at the hospital that I work at, that I still have a lot of work to do. We don’t usually admit autistic children unless they have another mental health diagnosis that needs acute care. There was an autistic/aspergers child who was being a little difficult. But if you knew about autism, you would know he wasn’t just being a brat. He was frustrated because he didn’t want to eat his lunch and the staff was taking away some of his privileges because of this. If these counselors knew anything about autism, they would know that most autistic children have food/sensory issues, and they would not try to make the child eat, or punish him for not eating. You would also know that some autistic children (especially mine) don’t understand the ‘if this, then that’ concept. It may be too abstract to some.

They then proceeded to physically take the child back to the unit without options or warning. For those autism parents reading this, you know what happened next. Yes, the child began to have a complete meltdown, which required the staff to become aggressive with him, when given no choice, to avoid the child hurting himself or anyone else. My first thought was ‘my child is one of the few autistic children with very little behavior problems, but if they pulled him up off the floor like that, you would probably see Chucky-like, crazy-ass behavior problems emanating from his little body.’ I understand that it is instinctual to treat a child in a psychiatric hospital the same as the next psychiatric patient with mental health problems. But not all behaviors are the same, or should be tended to in the same way. Long story short, I did tell the necessary people and urged some autism education, but only time will tell.

Anyway, I’m not saying these particular counselors were judgmental or ignorant, but uneducated for sure. They were assuming that this child was in control of his emotions and behaviors. They thought punishing him was going to set him straight. For some, this does work. But understanding everything about autism would have helped this child remain calm and avoid a meltdown all together.

As I have said before, I am far from perfect, and not at all the worlds best mom, or even best autism advocate. The other day, someone called me judgmental and it made me think……..I probably do have a lot more work to do in that department myself, but I think everybody does to a certain extent, I don’t care who you are (or maybe that’s just me being judgmental, lol).  It’s very hard to put yourself in other people’s shoes, but just keep in mind that most people are just trying their best. Educate yourself before you judge others’ actions or behaviors, especially those in children. Someone asked me years ago why I became a social worker. My response was “I gotta get to heaven somehow”. Little did I know then that I was (and still am) nowhere near getting into those pearly gates.

What NOT to Say to an Autism Parent

Someone asked me a question about autism the other day that hit a nerve. They didn’t mean to, and it wasn’t a bad question, but it made me a little angry.

Don’t get me wrong, I am happy people are interested enough to ask questions and to try to understand my son (and autism in general) a little better, but sometimes people say things that really piss me off.  So, I decided to write a few things down to help those who are on the outside understand where we on the inside are coming from.

First of all,  just because you might piss me off, don’t ever hesitate to ask a question about autism. As my mom always told me, no question is a stupid question, except for the ones you don’t ask. So, with that being said………………………………..

1. If I am whining or complaining about something my son does, or an autistic trait that is difficult to deal with, don’t ever, and I repeat EVER, say anything like “Yeah, it’s the same with all kids”, or “that was hard when my son was that age, too”, or “that’s not just with autistic kids, that’s with all kids.” (you get the idea) Now, why is this a bad thing to say? Well, I had to think long and hard one day as to why this bothered me so much because when people say this, it is true. Normal kids do things that drive their parents and others crazy too, so why can’t people try to relate? Well, the main reason is because this is only one tiny portion of the struggles we have to deal with on a minute-by-minute basis. So, while a normal kid might do the same thing and drive their parents crazy for that brief minute, the next minute my autistic son will need help drinking from a cup, or will cover his ears and scream because the ticking clock is way too loud, which your child will probably not be struggling with at his age. My point is that yeah, all kids do annoying things, but it is usually in many more instances, and is exaggerated (or to a much higher degree) to an autistic child.

I will give an example of this…………..One day my husband was upset at how disastrous my son’s haircut went. My son screamed and cried like we had never heard before. While my husband was venting his stress on Facebook, so many people responded with things like “yeah, my son was that way” (this is a neurotypical child they are talking about) and they probably were telling the truth. But what they don’t understand is that some autistic children have very sensitive systems and getting a hair cut may feel like cutting their fingers off to them. Not in the pain sense, but in the sensory overload sense. They may think you are cutting off their ears and don’t understand what you are actually doing. The sound of the scissors cutting the hair may sound to them like a hammer pounding very loudly right in their ear. Their senses are completely different than ours, so therefore, there is no comparison.

2. It is sometimes annoying to hear someone ask “Why is that?” when I am explaining my sons horrible sleep patterns, or his significant regression over time. Or when they ask “what does his therapist say about that?” Why is this annoying? Because there is only one answer and you already know it………….Because he’s autistic.  We could get into the specific logistics or the neurophysics of it all, but at the end of the day, it wouldn’t make sense to any of us, and quite frankly nobody knows for sure. So, the only answer is “Because he’s autistic”…………Because 50-80% of autistic children have sleep disorders…………..Because 30-40% of autistic children regress………….but why? I wish I knew. Because they have autism, that’s why.

3. I love and hate (at the exact same time) when people send me articles or videos about autism. I LOVE that they not only took the time to read or watch, but that they thought about me and my child. I HATE it because I have seen it, probably 3-4 times. I have not only read/watched it, I can almost guarantee I have tried whatever they are saying worked. Or, there is a damn good reason I haven’t tried it.

4. Along with number 3, it’s kind of annoying when people ask me if I have my son in any kind of treatment. Um, no, we just sit around and wait for the autism to go away. All jokes aside, I have him in probably too much therapy, which might be the problem. It is a legitimate question for someone to ask, but I can guarantee there is not an autism parent out there that doesn’t have their child in some kind of therapy, even if it’s just speech for 20 minutes a week in his public school.

5. “Is your child non-verbal?” I only hate this question because my son is neither verbal nor non-verbal.  This is a legitimate question and not rude by any means, but I can’t really answer. Yes, my son has words, but he doesn’t talk. Only autism parents get that actual answer.

6. Sometimes when I tell people that my son has autism, their response is, “I’m sorry”. Some autism parents HATE this response. I personally don’t mind it. You should feel sorry for me, and happy that your child is not on the spectrum. Some  parents say, “don’t feel sorry for me, I love my child’s autism.” I’m here to say, I don’t! I love my child with all of my being, but I don’t love his autism. I don’t love that he struggles every time he tries to think of that word of the food he wants, and when he doesn’t know it, he screams and cries because he is so frustrated at the difficulty it brings.  I hate that my son may never be able to take care of his basic needs, and might need special care his entire life. I also hate that we spent over $137,000 out of pocket for all autism services last year (that was our call, yes, but sad that there is not more insurance coverage or better public school options). So, yeah, feel sorry for me…….all day long.

7. “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” or “God only gives special kids to special people”. I’m indifferent to both of these. I can say that when my child was first diagnosed, every time someone said something about there being a “reason God placed him in my life”, or I was the “best person for him”, I would cry big, sloppy tears. Good tears, but still gross tears. I believed this, and I knew how strong my love and devotion was to my child. However, I realized quickly that I am not that ‘special’. I do what almost every parent would do given the same situation and that doesn’t make me any better. I also realized quickly that God DOES give you more than you can handle sometimes, but you make do and you get through, or you don’t. Luckily, I have made it through every time……so far.

8. And last but not least (for this blog post anyway), “When he starts talking, it will be much easier”. Yes, this is correct, it will be MUCH easier. But it is not “when”, it is “if.” You can tell me that I am being negative all day long, but I call it realistic. Is it healthy to patiently wait for something that may never happen, or love and appreciate him for the way he is? I’d like to think the latter. Studies suggest that it is likely that he will talk at some point, but there is also TONS of research that show some autistic children never learn to verbally communicate, but may communicate through computers and other means. So, therefore, I don’t think it is healthy to wait for that day, patiently or impatiently. I just love him for who he is now and still provide him with ongoing speech therapy–and hope for the best.

Well, that’s all I got today. I’m sure there are tons more questions and comments that get on my nerves, but I want people to continue talking and asking about autism, so I’ll shut up now.