The Awareness I Want to See

I want to see us move on from the past and move into “I didn’t mourn for you.” To me, that will be true autism awareness.

I’ve heard the argument that people need to mourn when they find out their child is autistic. I get it. I even get the argument about how they mourn for their own lost dreams when they realize they child they have is not the child they though they have.

But, you know what? We don’t have to have mourning at all.

I look at the LGBT community. 20 years ago, it would be pretty darn common for a parent to be sad, mourn, maybe even be angry when their child said, “Mom, dad, I’m gay.” The best, most pro-gay parent groups at the time talked about the need to give yourself (as a parent) time to adjust to who your child is, and that it’s okay to feel sadness. That it’s a real, authentic feeling.

Nobody doubts the sincerity of their feelings. But that didn’t make it right. While I applaud people who’s views about homosexuality have changed after a family member came out – and am genuinely glad they now accept their child – the reality is that before their views changed, they saw homosexuality in a negative way, not a neutral and certainly not a positive way. It took something very powerful – the love for their child – to help them overcome their own prejudice.

Now, I’m not saying these people are horrible people for having once held prejudiced views. They have changed, after all. And that’s admirable. But at the same time, wouldn’t it be even better to not have been prejudiced in the first place? We can’t necessarily help our upbringing and our ignorance, and, yes, how we respond when confronted with new information is what truly matters. But at the same time, do you not think a gay child (who hasn’t yet come out) is going to feel more comfortable coming out in a family where the parents have already shown acceptance of gay people rather than in one that it will take a process for the parents to grapple with their past prejudice? Of course it’s better to have the acceptance early, not just late.

Likewise, it’s possible for a parent to not be crushed when they find out their child has an autism diagnosis. It’s possible for them to say, “This is part of who my child is” and move on, without tears and pain and fear. And I think focusing so much on the need for some to mourn (which, obviously, is legitimate) keeps us from seeing what the world could look like. The world could be a place where “your child is autistic” doesn’t sound like a death sentence or a painful disease.

As an autistic adult who likes who he is, I’ve found I now have to add a disclaimer: Yes, of course, I’m not saying you should like seizures, aggression, pain, or anything else like that. But of course those things aren’t autism either. And before you make assumptions about me and my life, disabilities I do or don’t have, I challenge you to consider your assumptions. I’m not saying I’m just like your kid, but at the same time, don’t expect me to be happy when you say, “but if you were like my kid, you’d hate autism.”

I’m just wanting “your child has autism” to be seen as what it is: another insight into the makeup of your child. Alone, that statement doesn’t tell you much about the child. It doesn’t tell you if they will have an easy or hard life, if she’ll excel in academics or her career, if she’ll get married or have kids, or even if your family will be able to do A, B, or C – whatever A, B, and C are. It’s possible to not go through months of mourning for that child you thought you had.

Now, maybe you need to go through that. That’s fine, and it’s certainly better to go through it and come out the other side with a positive view of autism than for you to simply hold onto that view. But wouldn’t it be nice to just skip the mourning completely, and continue to celebrate the child you already have? That’s the vision I have. A vision where no autistic child has the experience of bringing devastation to their parents just for having a name for the type of person they are.

That’s the world I want to live in. That is autism awareness and acceptance.

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