I’m so angry right now that I could spit fire.
On Friday, I spoke with a journalist who was writing an article about parenting autistic children. I hate speaking to people on the phone. It is something that I am not good at, and it uses up a lot of spoons because I have to concentrate really hard to ensure that the conversation progresses smoothly from my side. But, I did it because I wanted her to know that there is more than one autism story.
Autism in the media is presented as a ‘tragedy’. The focus is always on how an autistic child destroys marriages, causes isolation, damages friendships, blah blah blah. That’s a lot of power that one child has, isn’t it? I explained to the journalist that there is a different perspective. There are parents in Australia who don’t feel that way, but it’s hard for us to be heard because the “poor me, my life is ruined” voices are always the loudest.
At the time, she seemed quite receptive to my message. She has promised to follow up with me in a few weeks’ time to do a standalone article on this perspective. I still hope that she does, but after reading her article this morning, I can’t say that I’m all that hopeful. The article was all the usual doom and gloom. All the usual “I can never go out”, “our marriage has been tested”, etc. even though I’m well aware that the particular person who was quoted is often out and about at ‘support meetings’ (aka pity parties) on a regular basis. Did the journalist even mention that there is an alternate view? Did she even allude to the fact that not all parents actually feel that way? Of course she didn’t. Why would she when negativity is the overriding theme.
Well, I want to say that there is an alternate view. There is more than one autism story. There is the view that our autistic children are awesome people who haven’t changed our lives for the worse. They’ve changed them for the better.
My son is the most loving, beautiful, simply awesome human being that I have had the pleasure to get to know. On a daily basis, he amazes me with his insight, joy, and love of life. Yes, he may do some things differently to other children of his age, but different does not mean worse. Different means different. Yes, there are times when he struggles to cope with a world that wasn’t built for people with his neurology. I share his struggles, and so we do things differently to some families.
We don’t go to places when they’re busy. We always visit the zoo when it’s raining because very few people do that so we don’t have to deal with queues and people. Does that limit us? Not at all. The seals never seem to mind the rain and we love watching them. We still get to experience things as a family, and we still get to enjoy ourselves.
We don’t go grocery shopping. We order our groceries online and get them delivered. Does that limit us? Not at all. It makes our life much easier because we save time and probably even money.
We don’t have a lot of friends whose houses we visit. Does that limit us? Not at all. The friends that we do have are truly wonderful, accepting, caring people. The friendships that we have are quality friendships, based on mutual acceptance rather than superficial things.
We don’t have a lot of money. Does that limit us? Not at all. We think creatively about things that we can do that don’t cost much. We go on picnics, we take long walks, we watch movies at home, and we enjoy doing things together.
Most importantly, we’re happy. We’re happy with what we have, we’re happy with what we do, and we’re happy living the way we do.
We don’t wallow in misery and spend all of our energy blaming the big scary bogeyman of autism for all of our problems. Our lives are not perfect, but that’s not because of autism; it’s simply because no one’s life is perfect.
So, to parents of autistic children, I would love to say: Stop wallowing. Start living. Start focusing on what you have, rather than what you don’t have. Start figuring out ways to do things differently that you can enjoy as a family without dwelling on what other families are doing. You’re only missing out if you’ve decided that you’re going to allow yourself to get stuck in all the negative stories surrounding autism, and if you’re going to continue to blame autism for all of your troubles, then you need to take a good look at yourself and ask yourself what effect that attitude has on your autistic children.