There’s a flash blog this Friday. I’m posting my contribution early to signal boost a bit – entries are due by Thursday at 12:00 PM, so if you’re going to join in the fun, you should get cracking! Click on the image for more details.
Love not fear. I’m finding this prompt hard to write about because, for me, love goes hand-in-hand with fear. To love someone is an act of great vulnerability. It opens us up to the possibility of loss and pain, and that’s frightening.
To love a child is an especially vulnerable act. In addition to all of the other fears that relationships can bring, there is a special fear that comes with parenting: the fear of failing our child.
Parenting is hard and confusing and by nature we all go into as rank newbies. What if we get it wrong? What if we make a colossal mistake and our child’s life is forever changed? What if we make a whole bunch of little mistakes and in the end that adds up to a colossal mistake? There is no greater responsibility than that of guiding another human being to adulthood.
When that human being is autistic, the stakes are suddenly portrayed as being so much higher.
Thanks to the culture of fear that’s risen up around autism, parents of autistic kids get handed an additional set of fears. They get an itemized list of all the things that are wrong with their child and all of things that their child won’t do and all of the ways that their child is behind other children. Their child might only be two or three years old, but the experts are already confidently making predictions about his prospects for employment or her prospects for college, of how unlikely it is that he’ll have children or that she’ll get married.
Parents of autistic kids hear burden and tragedy and epidemic and they sense that they should be very afraid. More afraid than parents of children who aren’t autistic.
Afraid of what exactly? That their child will turn out like me?
Because if the parents of a newly diagnosed autistic child were sitting here in front of me, I’d tell them that their child turning out like me would be a pretty awesome thing. Yes, being autistic is hard at times. Yes, we aren’t like most everyone else. Yes, an autistic child needs extra support and accommodations and will develop along an atypical trajectory.
That’s not something to be afraid of, though. There will be a steep learning curve at first, but there is a big community of autistic adults who can help. We were autistic kids once, so we know what it’s really like to grow up autistic. A lot of us are parents too, in fact, so we know about the ups and downs of raising a child. And we’re happy to help.
Why? Because we want our younger brothers and sisters on the spectrum to grow up in a culture that loves and accepts them. We don’t want their parents to fear for their future. We know that raising a child–any child–can be scary. But we’ve seen what happens when fear becomes the driving force in parenting. Without plenty of love to keep it in check, fear distorts and damages the parent-child bond. Worse, it robs a child of the one thing they need most–the security of knowing that they are loved by their parents, unconditionally.
Love and acceptance aren’t just catchy buzzwords. In fact, you’ll probably never see them in ad campaign for autism awareness. Why? Because they’re free. You don’t need any special training or a college degree or a research study to love and accept your child. You already have everything you need to start doing it right now.