Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Rant: On "Autism Parents" and Superheroes

I’ve always felt a little on the ‘outside’ in my life.

I’ve generally never had a hard time making friends, and have typically been readily accepted in most social circles, so this feeling hasn’t necessarily been due to any external forces.

But I’ve always known that, on many levels, my mind works differently than many of my peers. I process information very rapidly. I process emotions very (very) slowly. I experience the world more through sounds than I do through any other sense, and often operate a bit on autopilot when things get too overwhelming.

And, for better of for worse, I have a tendency to reach very different conclusions from my peers when presented with the same set of information.

Being a person who approaches things pragmatically, forging a community- in the ideological sense- has not been something that has come easily to me. There is no one personal philosophy that defines me enough that I feel like I can connect to others through it on a global scale.

While I breastfeed, co-sleep, baby wear, and follow the vast majority of the principles of “Attachment Parenting”, it’s never been a label I have related to. I have always considered myself to be a bit of a hybrid between an anthropological parent (ie: parenting in ways that help society function at its fullest, with practices that change and evolve as society changes and evolves) and a scientific parent (ie: parenting in ways that are dictated by healthy biological development, no different really from our animal counterparts), and my research in both of these areas has fuelled the decisions that Jason and I have made regarding our children’s early rearing.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my “AP Parents”. They are some of the most beautiful and deeply connected people I have had the pleasure of meeting. But I have not generally applied the term to describe myself.  I always considered our parenting to be too complex to be summarized by a set of doctrines and practices.

I don’t “AP” parent.
I just parent.

And, for the most part, that lovely community has always responded with kindness and understanding: We are here for you regardless of how you define yourself. We are your tribe.

Now, as my children are growing older and their distinct personalities are emerging, I am finding myself once again wandering within a community, feeling like an outsider in a bit of a foreign land.

You see, I’m not convinced that there is any “community” more defined, more proud, and more present than the “Autism Parents”, at least not in my own particular neck of the parenting world.

I know some amazing parents of Autistic children. Truly I do. And I would consider some of them to be friends that have provided me guidance, support, and friendship in way that has not often been paralleled in my life.

But I am not an “Autism Parent”.

And every day this distinction becomes more and more apparent to me.

Unlike the ‘Attachment Parent’ label, my reaction to ‘Autism Parent’ is a much more negative one. Not only is this not a term I relate to- it is a term that I reject outright. It is a term that I find offensive on multiple levels, not the least of which being the fact that Charlie does not, at this time, show any indication whatsoever of being Autistic and how I define my parenting experience should probably not completely exclude her from the dialogue.  She is my child, as much as Sammie. She is not an after-thought.

(I also have massive issues with the double-think required to use this type of terminology, but that’s a story for another post.)

(Come to think of it, there are a whole lot of things that I hate about the “Autism Parent” culture and I suspect that I will have an entire series of posts dedicated to just this topic…)

(But, for now, one thing at a time...)

One of the things that really gets to me about the ‘Autism Parent’ movement is the idea that somehow being the parent of an Autistic child has made me “more special” than other parents. And not only more “special”, but “better”- more powerful, more engaged, more dedicated, more patient, more, more, more, more, more.  

The memes abound. There’s a new article about it every day.

Autism Parents are different from all other parents.  They simply ‘love’ their kids more.

Now, I’ve met a fair amount of parents of all walks of life. And I have one thing to say about that:

Bull shit.

Let’s put one thing to rest once and for all:

There is NO prerequisite training, test or other screening process for having an Autistic kid.

This is genetics, people. It’s the combination of DNAs, all interplaying with each other over the course of generations.

NO. God did not hand-pick ‘special people’ to have ‘special kids’, and if he did, I would sure like to have a word with him about the fact that thousands of disabled children are abused at the hands of their ‘special parents’ every single day.

“Autism Parents” are no more empowered to be exceptional parents than any other parent on the planet.

Are there some parents of Autistic kids who are absolutely amazing and make us all sit there thinking “Man, they have this shit nailed?”


Just as there are some parents of “typical” kids who are absolutely amazing and make us do the same.

Don’t get me wrong- parenting an Autistic child can be a vastly different experience from parenting a neurotypical one (or so has been my experience from parenting my two diverse kids). Yes, there are different challenges and different struggles. I’m not going to deny that for a second.

But how we deal with that is an entirely personal decision.

There is no “Autism Parent Gene” that gets activated and turns you into a super hero the second your Neurologist hands you a piece of paper to sign.

And no, raising an Autistic child does not necessarily make you a better parent or a better person.  No more or less than raising a typically developing child would.

Parenting is an experience that absolutely transforms you from the inside out, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. Which side of that fence you fall on is- quite frankly- entirely up to you.

So call me a cynic, but when I see crap like this:

All I can think of are articles like this. And this. And this. And this.

And the hundreds, upon hundreds, upon hundreds of different stories we have of “Autism Parents” abusing, neglecting, traumatizing, and even killing their children.

Autism is a neurological difference, not a flowing red cape. It is a part of the identity of the person who is Autistic, not the person who is raising them. 

And having an Autistic kid doesn’t make you a super hero. Nor does it make you a better parent than anybody else.

You aren’t a super hero* for raising your kid, neuro-diverse or otherwise, with love, empathy, support, compassion and respect. 

These are parenting fundamentals, and doing them is the bare minimum of basic human decency.

So, enough with the self-adulation.

edit note: Original text read "You aren't a hero for raising your kid", an unintentional omission brought to my attention by Liam in comments. People can indeed be 'heroes' for being good human beings who share love, respect, support and compassion with their children and with the world. But they are not "super heroes", which implies an ability beyond that of a normal human being, which is the point I was trying to get at in the post. 


  1. I disagree with your third-last paragraph.

    You are a hero for raising your kid, neuro-diverse or otherwise, with love, empathy, support, compassion, and respect.

    But I guess we can disagree on that one.

    1. I can accept that. I was more meaning to say "super hero" and typed too fast. Will edit, as I agree: Good people are heroes- the real kind of heroes. But they are not 'surhuman'.

  2. I often wonder if my child had been allistic, if I would be considered a super hero for raising him?

    As an Autistic parent, it would create unique challenges for me to raise a child who had different needs and wants than me, or so that seems to be the thought process with certain "autism moms" when it comes to their Autistic children.

    Then, I remember that my child is a unique human being who is very different from me even though we are both Autistic. Whatever his neurology, there will always be challenging aspects to parenting. If kids were born knowing everything, then they wouldn't need parents, right? I know that parenting can be hard, some days are very difficult but I don't blame his neurology for my hard time parenting. I certainly wouldn't blame a typically developing child either for any guidance he needed or for MY lack of understanding of his needs.

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