Can We Take Autism Acceptance Too Far?

My husband is autistic. Both my children are autistic. I am a huge advocate of autism awareness and acceptance. However I am also a realist and deeply honest and something that has been worrying me more and more is the fact that we seem to be moving perhaps too far in our pursuit of autism acceptance and I am now wondering if the scales are now tipping too far the other way?

What do I mean?

Well for many years the voices of autistic adults were ignored and suppressed. In more recent years, thankfully, this has been changing and some of the most successful advocates for autism are now autistic adult self advocates. This IS a good thing and I don’t want us to stop hearing from autistic adults. I have learnt so much from them and I would love my own daughter to emulate some of them as she matures and grows.

However, there is a balance and with the growth of self advocates there has been a real suppressing and abuse of parents of autistic children (and adults) who have been threatened and bullied because their thoughts seem to clash with the autistic self advocates.

You see autism is a very different experience for different people. For some adults it is just seen as a different way of thinking or a unique way of looking at the world and for them that is absolutely fine and right. Then there are parents, like myself, of children who may never talk themselves and who have extremely high care needs and require round the clock care, diagnosed with the same condition, yet living very different lives. For those families, and I say families because it affects everyone not just the autistic child or adult in these cases, autism is a huge disability and they have a right to voice that too.

Here is a good example of how things have changed:

Six years ago when my son was just four, screaming all day, smearing, non verbal, still in nappies and attacking me I would read posts on support groups which read ‘Help My child is always in meltdown, attacking me and stimming. I’m exhausted and struggling.’ I could identify and I would say so. So many others said similar and the person posting was validated in their struggles while a few would give some ideas of things that had worked for them. Everyone wanted to help both the child and the parent but at no point was the parent made to feel awful for struggling.

Fast forward six years later and the same post in the same group gets very different comments because things have changed. We have been told by autistic adults how much they need to stim and how we need to accept them for exactly who they are and embrace their differences. While that is absolutely right it has also lead to parent bashing and now the same parent gets comments such as ‘how dare you make this about YOU!’ They are called a martyr mum for struggling and some even go as far as to threaten to report them for abuse claiming the child is struggling because they are such an abusive parent. What then happens is the parent feels worse than ever, even less equipped to support their child and even more isolated than before.

Then there is the cases of genuinely concerned parents desperate to help their struggling children asking about therapies in order to help their child make friends, communicate better or cope better in school and they are jumped on by autistic adults who were damaged by certain therapies as a child and who say the parent isn’t accepting or loving their child as they are because they want to change them.

We are fast reaching a point where parents are no longer allowed to be human, or ask for support or want to help their autistic child. We are no longer allowed to mention anything that even hints that our child struggles or that they have any difficulties or we are accused of ableism.

Apparently I am not politically correct and ableist by saying my son has severe autism, he is non verbal at ten, not toilet trained and has the academic ability of a baby. However that IS exactly what he has. He has low functioning autism and his reports even state ‘severe mental impairment’. Stating that he won’t get married, have children, live independently and need 24 hour support all his life is suddenly taboo and offensive because his autism is just a different way of looking at the world and nothing more. According to some self advocates I should have my son removed from my care because I dare to say his autism is a disability. Apparently none of his difficulties are actually his autism and all other conditions. They say my attitude is what disables him and not his autism.

We need the voices of autistic adults, as parents we need to know what to avoid and how best to support our children BUT we need to also be allowed to struggle too. The seesaw of acceptance has to swing both ways.

For a long time parent voices out weighted those of autistic self advocates and that was wrong. Now I feel we are in danger of swinging the opposite way and parents who are sleep deprived, heartbroken at watching their child self harming or struggling with suicidal thoughts, or just exhausted by the same ten seconds of a video on replay for 8 hours, are vilified for daring to say autism can be difficult.

Can we take autism acceptance too far?

If we continue to see it just as a different way of thinking or seeing the world we are in danger of losing educational support for so many struggling children and throwing them into mainstream because ‘autism is not a disability’.

We are in danger of losing vital financial help for families because they are too afraid or programmed not to admit their child’s struggles.

We isolate struggling parents leading to an even bigger chance of vulnerable children being abused and parental suicide.

We cut back vital adult services for those who need it because we see anyone with autism as just different and not therefore in need of support.

We need a balance and an acknowledgement that autism is experienced differently by different people and that’s ok. Some need very little support while others need much more and that includes parents as well as autistic children and adults.

Until we accept that the balance of autism acceptance will never be right.

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To Everyone Who Helped My Son Through Brain Surgery

Rarely in life is the picture small. One simple stone thrown into a still pond creates a ripple that lasts long after the impact. So it has been with my ten years old’s recent brain surgery. This is a thank you to everyone who has been part of that ripple with one little amazing boy at the centre.

To the neurologist who saw my son for the first time after his previous neurologist retired and who immediately referred him for a routine MRI when he noticed it was later than originally planned: thank you for your diligence and quick referral. Without that my son would be suffering right now and no-one would know why. You were the person who threw that pebble and you did it with such attention to detail and care.

To the MRI clinic receptionist who called me with the date for that MRI: You had no idea you would be calling me several times again a few months later and we would recognise each other’s voices. Thank you for your professionalism and your cheery demeanour. I know we will be talking again soon, sooner in fact than anyone thought.

To the nurses who looked after my son on the day ward and have done five times now as he has become a regular in that day surgery. Thank you for always booking him a single room 3 because experience has taught us he won’t go anywhere else and doing all his checks as quickly and unobtrusively as possible. You take the time to understand him and allow me freedom to support him the way that works best without interfering. You make what is a long and difficult day more manageable for both him and me.

To the anaesthetist who I know like a friend: thank you for always putting my heart at rest and listening to my concerns. I alway know I am putting my baby in safe hands. Thank you for your reassurance time and time again. I was hoping we wouldn’t see each other for a while but when we meet again soon I will once again leave you with my sleeping child and trust you to keep him safe. You have proved your worth and continue to do so.

To the radiographers who have looked at my sons scans so many times and who have spotted first a tumour on his optic nerve, then other signs of concern and who quickly alerted medical staff to the mass on his right frontal lobe. Thank you for your attention to detail. Your diligence and thoroughness are what have made the difference between surgeons removing active brain cells and dead ones in my sons complex brain. You are partly responsible for his great recovery and quality of life.

To the oncologist, neurosurgeon, neurologist and radiologists who have met and discussed my son’s case numerous times: I know he has caused division and discussion but thank you to every single one of you for caring enough to want to help and investing your time and energy in seeking answers.

Thank you again to the neurologist left to make that call to me to say what had been found on my sons scan. I can only imagine the turmoil that call caused to have to phone an anxious mum at tea time and tell her surgeons she had never met wanted to do brain surgery on her non verbal autistic son because they had found ‘something” in his brain they didn’t like. You made that call with such compassion, such concern, yet such clarity that you left me feeling my son would be looked after and all would be well even though I was in shock. Thank you for going above and beyond and calling back the next night just to check on me. I will never forget your kindness.

Thank you to the neurosurgeon and oncologist for finding time in your busy schedule to meet with me and answer every question I had and letting me see scans for myself . Your care and straightforward talking made me feel secure and at peace knowing you had a plan and experience on your side.

To the staff in the day ward who coped with my distressed child when for the first time his anaesthetic failed and he woke in the MRI machine, thank you for your quick thinking and for making sure my son recovered from the trauma.

To the staff in the neurological ward who found themselves admitting a child with complex needs who spent the entire day pacing the ward while his mum read out the numbers in every door: thank you for your endless patience, adapting to my son’s ways and coming in to work the TV endless times a day to keep him settled. You made his stay bearable and tolerable against all odds and I know you will do it all over again in a few months when we are back to repeat it.

To the surgeon who worked on my son’s brain for six hours tirelessly unsure what you were going to see yet determined to find enough of that ‘something’ to biopsy and get answers. The scar you left has astounded many with how incredibly clean, well sutured and neat it is. You took great lengths to make sure you got everything you needed whilst carefully replacing the layers of my baby’s brain and skull. You then took more time to talk to me and show me what you had done and then met again with me weeks later to discuss the results. I could see your frustration when the results came back different to expected but your tangible relief in sharing it wasn’t cancerous made me realise how much you care about what you do. When you broke the news of the likely need for more surgery you did so with tenderness and care knowing this wasn’t something I wanted to hear.

To everyone who has messaged, prayed, supported me and my family, send cards, bought gifts for my children and hugged me as I cried: thank you. I could never have gone through this alone.

My son has been incredible. His resilience and determination has astounded me and I have faith he will get through this again when it all needs repeated to remove the tumour/lesion as best as they can in a few months time.

When you are part of the ripple in someone’s life it can be hard to see that your role, your part, is of any significance at all but everyone makes a difference. From the person making the phone call to the hand holder, to the person pushing the bed to theatre to the most qualified professional of all, we should never underestimate the role we have in helping someone else be the best person they can be.

Thank you to everyone who helped my son through his brain surgery and who will do it all again this summer. Without you all my son would not be loving life and loving me the way he does.

You had a role in saving a life. Be proud of yourself and know you are appreciated greatly.

Thank you,

From an emotional mum.