What ‘messages’ are children on the Autism Spectrum hearing – from ourselves, from other parents, at school, from media and in the general community? And what are the ‘take home’ learning’s – spoken and unspoken, they are internalizing from these messages?
Imagine being a young child and reading or hearing about the terrible ways people perceive you and children like you. Stories about children being locked in cages or ‘calm down rooms’ in schools, unable to cope. Parents despairing that their children’s behaviour doesn’t fit the norm, that their family’s life is collapsing from the strain of dealing with that child. Overhearing conversations between parents about people with autism, filled with pity and judgement.
Cadence’s sensory differences means she hears, sees and observes every detail around her – every conversation, every sight, every smell; as many autistic children do. This non-verbal exchange, between Cadence and her Mum, Angela, started under her teachers desk – a ‘safe place’ where Cadence had put herself in her confusion that she was somehow ‘bad’ – a belief that had culminated from over-hearing other parents and hearing news stories.
Cadence: Does being autism make me bad?
Angela: What makes you wonder if being autism makes you bad?
Cadence: Grown ups always say it’s hard being mum or dad if your kid is autism and it said on the TV if you are autism you hurt people. And kids who are autism have to be put in jail (goal) to keep others safe, or tied up.
Angela: Do you think I believe those things are true, or that I would say them?
Angela: What do you believe?
Cadence: I don’t like hurting people. I don’t like being scared. I was born autism but that doesn’t mean I was born bad…
Cadence: Are you crying?
Angela: Yes. I have happy tears that you know what is true and I have sad tears because there are lots of people who don’t know what is true.
Of course there are parental challenges that come with raising children on the Autism Spectrum. No one should ever minimize that reality. But we do owe it to our autistic children, and to all children, to remember that those challenges are adult challenges. They are separate from the child, and should not be something a child is burdened with hearing or knowing.