Some of you know that both of my boys are Autistic. It presents differently for each kid, and this is true of all kids with Autism: no two people experience Autism in the exact same way. There’s a saying in the Autism community “If you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism”. That kid in your kid’s class isn’t Autistic the same way that the kid down the street is or the kid from swim class. It’s not like other “disorders” – there’s of course diagnostic criteria, but what that looks like in everyday life is different for every single person, and it changes day to day.
This makes it harder for people who are unfamiliar with it to be understanding- they always say the wrong thing. They compare your kid to another kid they know with Autism. They say something judge mental about your kid’s terrible behavior not understanding where that behavior comes from and make inaccurate assumptions. They say things like “He seems fine, everyone has a label these days”- which undermines how hard things might be on any given day, or maybe today his disability is a little more invisible than it was yesterday (he’s not hand flapping today but yesterday people would have stared at him in public). They say “But he seems so smart”, as if intelligence was dichotomous with Autism. They will ask you if you’re “done having children then”, because you clearly should not be bringing more people into the assumed train wreck that is your life.
This makes it very isolating for families parenting children with Autism (or Autistic children, depending on what side of the person-first-or-not language debate fence you fall on). I say with regularity the problem is not that my child is Autistic, the problem is that my child has to interact in a neurotypical world. For me the hardest part of parenting my neurodiverse kids, most of the time, has everything to do with how to teach a square peg how to try and mold himself into a round hole. It’s painful to watch, but every time they get a little closer we have to cheer because we know that the world will not change for them, and got a little easier to engage with.
Today I am thankful for my village of parents raising exceptional kids, because they create small safe spaces for our family in addition to their own just by existing. I am thankful for my friends raising neurotypical kids who I know are are on my side because they listen and learn. I am thankful for my kids, for what they have been able to teach me about perseverance in the face of what I know if feels like a mountain.
Be understanding, be kind, be inclusive.