This is an edited version of a post originally published on Respectfully Connected.
“How do you, as an autistic adult, feel that your life would be different if you had been raised with the type of understanding, compassion and acceptance that you are advocating? How did the feeling that you were disordered or needing of therapy affect your life?”
This question got me thinking. I wasn’t identified as autistic in my earlier childhood. Despite that, I was still treated as though I was in need of fixing. I do not wish to appropriate the experiences of those who were identified as autistic in their younger years. People who were identified as autistic as children often receive the types of early intervention therapies that I’m against. But, I think I can still answer this question based on my childhood experiences.
When I was a young child, I was often asked “why can’t you just go with the flow?” or “why are you being so stubborn?” and many variations on that theme. So, in order to try and please my parents, I did my best to conform to their expectations. I wasn’t always successful. My parents sent me to a number of psychologists over the years to ‘fix’ me, but I tried.
The result was that I grew up miserable although you wouldn’t know it because I was expected to smile and be happy all the time. I grew up never really exploring my own identity. At the age of 17, I just couldn’t do it anymore so I left home and moved in with my biological mum. She would continually ask me questions about why I was so unhappy because when she left me with my father, I was a very happy four year old. At the time, I couldn’t tell her because I had internalised my parents’ expectations so extensively. It took me years to figure out who I was. It took me years to cast off my parents’ expectations and start living a life that was a true reflection of who I was. It has taken me years to rebuild my self-esteem, and I’m not even sure that that process will ever be complete.
So, that’s why I intentionally do things differently with my son. I’m not pretending to be perfect because I have caught myself thinking “why is he being so stubborn?” But, I don’t ask my son that question. Instead, I ask him “why are you determined to do it that way?” Most of the time, he’s chosen to do it his way because his way is the way that works best for him. My son is going with the flow. It’s just his flow. It’s what he’s comfortable with.
It has taken me years to realise that, actually, I was going with the flow. I was desperately trying to do what was most comfortable for me. Each and every one of those times that my parents asked me why I wasn’t going with the flow, I was trying to – it was just my flow.
So, I’m doing things differently with my son because I want him to grow up being confident and determined. I want him to be able to develop a firm sense of his own identity, and I believe that allowing him to determine what works best for him will give him the opportunity to do so.