Monday, July 3, 2017

Why Don't You Accept Your Child's Autism? Yes, But....

"Why Don't You ... Yes, But" is a mind game listed in Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships by Eric Bernie, MD. It is a transactional interaction that is in effect an equivocation where one party begins a sentence with "Why don't you____ and the respondent answers "Yes, but....."

Waiting for genuine Autism acceptance is like waiting for Godot. If I shouted "Why don't you accept autism?" into the grand canyon of predominantly white, well-to-do autism parents whose voices dominate this conversation, the echoed response would instead be "Yes, but..."

Book cover for Games People Play the
Basic Handbook of Transactional Analysis,
showing two black chess pieces, a queen an
a pawn in black. The book is red with  the
title and author's name in white lettering.
 lettering. Image credit: Google books
A few months ago I saw a parent who commands quite a following among special needs parents launch into her latest effort to "cure or reduce" her adult son's autism. Her son speaks, but she has ensured he has very little say in the matter of "fixing"  his own state of being. 

Speaking for her son and about him without him, she declares that neurodiversity is a fine thing for other autistics but her son needs the autism "fixed."  I take this to mean, in translation, that how she really feels is that there have always been parts of her son's visible disability she cannot cope with, therefore she despises autism and wants the autism parts "fixed." Her plan in this instance involves resolving his "gut" issues. I read the entire online lament, and shook my head.

This is in part an indication of the failure of Steve Silberman efforts through his book NeuroTribes to actually positively change public perception of autism. The book was not just supposed to make a profit. It was meant to explain the history of autism as a disability, properly define the often misused term neurodiversity, define autism's place in an inclusive society, and highlight how acceptance of that disability opens the door to accommodations and supports that allow autistic people to navigate a more justly designed and therefore more inclusive society.

Because the book is in large part an expansion of his "Geek Syndrome" essay the history told and the characters in those histories are limited to what will enhance the historical narrative for his predominantly white, higher income, target audience. Despite its popularity, with very few exceptions, it failed to connect with that intended target audience beyond parents like the one I've described in the previous paragraph. 

These parents simply misconstrue the terms acceptance and neurodiversity without changing their view of autism as a disability. Upper middle class to wealthy parents continue the same medical model narrative of excluding their autistic loved ones from the neurodivergent label or at best, making a compartmentalized adhoc acceptance of neurodiversity as they redefine it. It is the "neurodiversity is great, but those autistics are..."  the "not like my child," trope's latest variant.

Unaware of their own ableism and fiercely defensive when called out about how ablelist and boundary crossing the broadcasting of a disabled offspring's health concerns or their opinions of how much they choose to accept their offspring are,  they actually believe they understand neurodivergence and acceptance when they clearly do not. There is no qualifier in acceptance of the entirety of a loved one's disability. 

Book cover of NeuroTribes red
and black lettering with the book title
and author's name in read an subtile
except the word Autism in black.
Image of a leafy plant with birds and
butterflies of various colors and varies
on or around it. Image credit Goodreads
Many parents believe that the blame for anxiety disorders should be placed at autism's door. In fact, anxiety develops in part in reaction to parental intolerance of stimming and other self-soothing behaviors whose purpose is to overcome a hostile environment. Stimming is short for self-stimulatory behavior. 

What I find saddest about these parents is that to them the solution is never found in first ensuring that they aren't triggering issues in their own children, everything that goes wrong must be autism. While is it fine to set goals and presume competence, gaslighting your autistic loved one into conforming to a parent's expectation of what would be the most acceptable version of their autistic child for their own lack of embarrassment and comfort levels isn't the point. 

The primary requirement for autism acceptance is not saying things like "I accept my child but I don't accept his autism." Acceptance means the totality of a disability is accepted. Then challenges that are actually the result of the disability can be looked at and solutions can be sought to address these challenges. If a parent said to their child who lost a leg in a car accident that they loved them but not their body with a missing leg, everyone around them would be horrified. But no one makes a sound when a mother laments that neurodiversity is a fine thing but now she needs to continue working on her son's gut problem, which may cure him.

when  I ask, do you accept that your child's neurodivergence is a disability? The answer should never be the equivocation game "Yes, But..."

Did Mr. Silberman's book have a positive impact on its target audience? Look around. Are there any sharp increases in parent allies against ableism understanding the key to lifetime improvements in the quality of life for their autistic offspring requires less time trying to cure their guts and more time fighting for their civil liberties and rights to access and accommodation in society? I'll help you out. No, there are not.

Meanwhile, this particular parent, cheered on by her fanbase and without her adult son's consent, continues her efforts to rid herself of her son's autism which she accepts but doesn't accept, but hey, at least she now uses the word neurodiversity when speaking of how much she hates it.

If that was worth the price of excluding nonwhite and non-cis histories from NeuroTribe's narrative of autism, I hope it was worth it.

Games People Play Explained:

The Geek Syndrome Article

The Problem With NeuroTribes:

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