Imagine: Children with autism are different, not less
The child is not damaged or broken so nothing needs to be fixed. Maybe we are bit broken as human beings that we struggle to accept children who do not fit into the neat grooves we design for them.
Let’s celebrate neurodiversity this Autism Awareness Month.
There is one part of my job that really fills me with dread – having to share with parents that their child has autism spectrum disorder. There is always a range of feelings that bubble up as they receive the diagnosis. There could be dismay, sadness, guilt, pain, anger where they question and reject the certainty of my findings. But one feeling that lurks behind all that is fear: “Can he be like other children?” “Will he ever be normal?”
My assertions that there is nothing like ‘normal’ and that he can lead a healthy, fulfilling life then seem flaky as the parents grapple with the reality of the situation. I can sense hope seeping out of them as they grieve for their dream child that they have carried in their heart for so many years.
Now they have to learn a very different language and a different trajectory. Thread by thread, they have to learn how their child is wired differently. How he has difficulties in social communication, where simple interactions and conversations might be something that might not interest him at all. How sometimes his stimming, repetitive behaviour or rigidities might make a drive to the nearby store so exhausting. And how they have to get used to people staring, sniggering and judging because they think their child looks a little ‘odd’ or ‘weird’. As a mother shared with me, “This is not what I signed up for when I thought of becoming a mother.”
And then there is another part of my job that I really love. Being witness to the journey of many parents from their hopeless, crumpled “Why me?” to being the strongest advocates for their children. It fills me with such a sense of wonder at the resilience of the human spirit and the parents’ commitment to doing whatever it takes to give their children the best.
But the thing is, it can be very tough for parents to work out what is best for their children in the present-day ‘industry’ of autism. Some treatments seem like rocket science, claiming a “complete cure” for their child. Then there are all the sadhus and fakirs who claim to fix all ailments with their equally mysterious recipes.