When it comes to the spectrum, I’m maybe two degrees more enlightened than those who think all people with autism are savants that can count cards and toothpicks. (To be fair, Dustin did give a strong performance.)
My ignorance is no accident. People don’t gain specialized knowledge of hardship unless it’s necessary. Why would we?… to be well rounded? I mean, how much do you know about, say, Legionnaires’ disease?
As the father of a (neuro)typical 18 month-old boy, I am frequently astonished at how depleting and difficult parenting can be. And that’s with my wife doing most of the work. Maybe I’d be better equipped to handle parenthood if I were a 16 year-old Mormon fundamentalist prairie mom. But that comes with its own baggage.
So how do you cope when your child has autism? It’s not a rhetorical question. Parents untouched by autism are terrified yet preoccupied by its prevalence. It is perhaps unfair to show an academic interest when it’s not my kid flinging feces on the wall. But what do you want to me to say? “Better you than me”? (People with more tact than I will usually phrase this sentiment as “There but for the grace of God…”)
Basically, I stand in awe of the impossibly high hurdles that you must clear. Daily. Hourly. This minute. None of us can really fathom the patience and resolve required to raise a child with autism. We don’t know how to start the conversation, mostly owing to awkwardness, ignorance, or superstition. And frankly it’s hard to even tread here without sounding like an emotional tourist.
As you’ve read this far, I’m hoping you’ll address a few burning questions. They are compiled from near-complete ignorance. But there ought to be a way to gain perspective without fear of tripping over taboos.
Your answers will not herald an era of understanding. They will not put an end to people’s silent disapproval or blatant staring. But you’ve long since learned to ignore fools. These are just for me. Accordingly, I’m calling this brief questionnaire:
“Stop Staring and Finish Your Fucking Onion Blossom”
1. What do your non-nuclear family members fail to understand about your child, despite repeated explanations?
2. If you could fire a magic bullet at anything related to autism, where would you aim? E.g. health insurance companies, educators, spouse, legislators, me (although technically I am unrelated). And don’t get too trigger happy, Rambo – you only get one magic bullet.
3. Is there a hierarchy among parents based on where along the spectrum your kids are?
4. What does your peer group commiserate about that you’d never share with outsiders (were it not for the relative anonymity of the internet)?
5. Which parents do you look at and think “Better You Than Me”? E.g. parents of a) paraplegics, b) Siamese twins, c) young republicans, d) albinos. Hmmm… the question, while sincere, could be phrased more sensitively. But you’re an expert at handling inappropriateness.
Use the comments section to answer any or all of the above. Because y’know… you have so much free time on your hands.