This is an edited version of a post originally published on Respectfully Connected.
Imagine you are living in a strange land, filled with giants. In a place where many of the people around you were twice your height. Most – if not all – of the furniture is simply too big for you to use comfortably. Imagine that dogs in this land could look you in the eye because that’s how big they are.
Now, imagine struggling to make sense of everything in this land. Noises are too loud, and lights are too bright. It feels as though people are speaking a slightly different language to you. They all seem to understand each other, but you just can’t really figure out what they’re saying. It’s all a bit scary, and overwhelming.
I remember feeling that way as a child: Everything was so big and overwhelming.
There are many parents who share their stories about raising autistic children. These stories tend to focus on their perceptions without considering their children’s perspective. These stories may involve feelings of frustration because their child is attempting to assert their autonomy without having the maturity to be diplomatic about it.
They may involve confusion because their child, in an attempt to exert control over their environment, has suddenly decided that everything on the ‘will eat’ list has been removed. That means that the process of finding food that their children will eat has to start all over again. They may involve dismay because their child had a meltdown when everything became too much to handle, and dismay is often combined with guilt because they were unable to foresee or prevent the meltdown.
I can understand parents who express those emotions. I can understand that those experiences are the challenging aspects of raising children. But, whenever I hear stories like those from parents, the words that I hear loudest are the unspoken ones: Our children are trying their best to cope in a world that is not designed for them, and sometimes they struggle.
We are the giants in our children’s strange land, but we have also been children in the same strange land. So, it will always be easier for us to remember what that was like than expect our children to simply cope in this strange land.