Two thoughts I want to get across today: (1) since ASD is a “hidden” disability, it is more difficult for people to comprehend; and (2) sometimes the biggest bullies are other parents. Let’s see how these two concepts converge.
As parents / family / friends / caregivers / support / etc. of ASD kids, we have come to understand and accept that Autism Spectrum Disorders are “hidden” disabilities. ASD people, especially kids, appear to be “normal” most of the time and high functioning ASD kids are typically very smart and do well in school. There are some exceptions to this, notably Tourette’s Syndrome which may manifest itself by involuntary sounds, facial expressions, tics, etc. Although there are those who won’t accept the “involuntary” part of this; they maintain it is just bad behavior allowed by bad parents.
Those of us in the ASD community know that the symptoms of ASD are neither voluntary nor caused by bad parenting. Science has proven both of these precepts.
But we also must be tolerant of the reality that, from the outside looking in, it is difficult for many people to comprehend what ASD is and how it manifests itself. Heck, as a parent, it took me a while to comprehend it about my own child and most of my extended family members still don’t comprehend it. They choose to believe that this is a behavior issue, not a neurological condition where the brain is simply wired differently than ‘neuro-typical’ kids.
The unfortunate part of this is the ‘non-believers’ can turn this against the ASD kids and their parents. Have you ever received those disapproving glances at the grocery store when your child was having a meltdown? Have you ever heard those parents making derogatory comments under their breath when your child didn’t want to participate in a group activity? Maybe some of you have even faced the brunt of someone’s verbal lashings like “if you disciplined your kid, this wouldn’t happen”?
Frankly, to me at least, this is bullying just as name-calling on the playground is bullying. Those people think they are somehow better than you and that they have some unalienable right to criticize you about your child. They don’t. And parents should know better than bully others. Sadly, some don’t.
This ignorance and intolerant attitude can also manifest itself in the school context. These same parental bullies will fight schools trying to implement special services or special education needs programs; they will fight when the school budget is changed to account for these additional services; and they will show up at School Board meetings and try to bully the members into rejecting these services (which indirectly is bullying the parents of ASD and special needs kids).
That isn’t the worst part (although you’d think it would be). The worst part comes from the old but accurate observation that children learn behaviors from their parents. So when the parents bully other parents or their special needs kids, the children of those parental bullies become bullies themselves and mimic their behavior. Bullies beget bullies.
I hope that we can learn to be a more tolerant society and accept differences. Only when we accept everyone for their uniqueness will we move towards a better society where all kids can thrive. One big step in that direction is to identify the parental bullies and gently persuade them that tolerance is much better than ignorance.