Raising Autistics: Children are people, not property4 min read

There appears to be a divide in society over how to prop­erly raise autistic kids. I find this most notice­able during social media con­ver­sa­tions between adult autis­tics who grew up mis­un­der­stood and mis­treated, and par­ents of autistic chil­dren who care deeply for their autistic chil­dren. The latter don’t realize they might be making deci­sions that will inevitably pro­duce more adult autis­tics who grew up mis­un­der­stood and mis­treated.

Children are people, not property.

Until we fully embrace this notion as a society, as a world­wide com­mu­nity, we will con­tinue to allow many of our fellow cit­i­zens to pass through child­hood without meeting their basic social-emotional needs.

Rearing chil­dren is a social con­tract you make with society. You are stating through your actions that you want to con­tribute to raising the next gen­er­a­tion, and with that com­mit­ment comes cer­tain respon­si­bil­i­ties.



re·spect | \ ri-ˈspekt  \

ahigh or spe­cial regard ESTEEM

The model of peaceful par­enting is pred­i­cated on respect. Any rela­tion­ship, in order to be suc­cessful and not char­ac­ter­ized by some level of abu­sive behavior, requires a foun­da­tion of respect.

When you regard the humanity of someone, you take their needs and pref­er­ences into account when making deci­sions. You speak well of them to others, and you rec­og­nize that even though you may have dis­agree­ments, a failure to achieve clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion does not mean the other per­son’s actions make them less of a human being.

Someone whom you per­ceive to have wronged you still deserves to have their basic needs met — including social and emo­tional needs. And while peaceful par­enting is ben­e­fi­cial to chil­dren regard­less of their neu­ro­log­ical align­ment, it is absolutely cru­cial in raising autis­tics.

Motivation: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic 

Many people are intrin­si­cally moti­vated. Autistic people are often pro­foundly so. For this reason, in addi­tion to myriad others, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is con­sid­ered by many advo­cates to be deeply destruc­tive to the psyche of autistic people. Forcing intrinsically- moti­vated beings to work for extrinsic rewards is demeaning and dis­heart­ening.

Intense emotional storms require calm surroundings

All chil­dren are learning to reg­u­late their emo­tions. Very few adults are any good at reg­u­lating their emo­tions con­sis­tently, and chil­dren have decades less expe­ri­ence than the most reg­u­lated adult.

Autistic chil­dren exist in a state of height­ened stress almost con­stantly, and a lot of what is per­ceived as chal­lenging behavior is actu­ally a man­i­fes­ta­tion of a child reaching a tip­ping point — col­lapsing over the edge of the limits of their mental and emo­tional endurance.

Sensory over­whelm causes extreme suf­fering.

Imagine walking into a room with a tele­vi­sion turned up to max­imum volume, a tele­phone ringing in another room, a fly buzzing around your face, water drip­ping from a mys­te­rious spot on the ceiling into your hair and run­ning down into your eyes, wind blowing through an open window which pushes your hair across your nose and mouth over and over again while someone tries to have a con­ver­sa­tion with you– par­tic­u­larly one where instruc­tions are involved about a task that is required of you, and boy, they are get­ting impa­tient.

This is what sen­sory over­load can feel like. It’s often mad­dening to the point of intense emo­tional anguish and actual phys­ical pain. How can we expect chil­dren to nav­i­gate this hellscape of sen­sory input with grace? Would any neu­rotyp­ical person handle a sim­ilar sit­u­a­tion better? I truly doubt it.

When we begin to examine the way society treats chil­dren, par­tic­u­larly dis­abled chil­dren, it becomes increas­ingly obvious that the lit­tlest among us are granted the least human rights. Would an adult sit through a “therapy” ses­sion where they were rewarded for com­pleting tasks that were excru­ci­at­ingly uncom­fort­able, even painful for them, at the risk of having some­thing pre­cious to them with­held when they couldn’t comply?

An adult would endure that if they wanted to, right? But what if they didn’t have a choice? What if they had to par­tic­i­pate in activ­i­ties that mor­ti­fied them, or that they weren’t phys­i­cally, emo­tion­ally, or men­tally capable of doing at that time? What if they were shamed for a per­ceived failure? What if they were made to feel pow­er­less, over and over again– never good enough?

This is how main­stream society has taught us to raise chil­dren for a very, very long time. Regardless of neu­rology, this is a ter­rible way to treat our fellow humans– par­tic­u­larly the most vul­ner­able among us.

This is also ABA– the treat­ment many pro­fes­sionals rec­om­mend for autistic chil­dren– which goes com­pletely against their intrinsic nature, and by design dis­re­gards the root causes of their strug­gles.

“It’s not our job to toughen our chil­dren up to face a cruel and heart­less world. It’s our job to raise chil­dren who will make the world a little less cruel and heart­less.” ― L.R. Knost, Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages



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  1. Yes! So many parent to autistic child/adult rela­tion­ships are com­pletely toxic. The par­ents just wont val­i­date their childs needs and wishes as valid — and end up shaming their child just for existing as they are — or using them to gain sym­pathy or atten­tion. I’ve seen it in varying degrees in other autistic indi­vid­uals through my psy­chology edu­ca­tion — and count­less autistic accounts online, and with me as a child with my parent, grand­parent, and foster parent. I was always shamed for my needs, sen­si­tivity, being a burden — and used either to emo­tion­ally dump on, for finan­cial exploita­tion or com­mu­nity sym­pathy — and ended up feeling like i’m com­pletely worth­less to have my phys­ical or emo­tional needs met — or even to exist, as I’m just a burden or oblig­a­tion noone wants the incon­ve­nience or shame of acknowl­edging. Its very dam­aging and so hard to heal and get this kind of treat­ment out of your psyche.

    Dr.shefali is saying some really good things about con­sciously par­enting that are so applic­able to autism.

  2. ^ or end up causing harm trying to fix or change their child

    This is why so many Autism advo­cacy organisations/groups that are run by par­ents are so prob­lem­atic to actual autistic indi­vid­uals. The parent cant see past their own bubble of what they expect the child needs or should be, or should achieve, and bases good/bad on this — which always leaves the autistic child in the bad cat­e­gory for being dif­ferent to them, for responding ‘neg­a­tively’ to what the parent admin­is­ters or demands. Even those par­ents who are more tol­erant, due to some under­standing of their childs dis­ability, still seem to per­ceive them as lesser/defective, which of course the child picks up on, in one way or another

  3. Yes! Just … yes.

    I grew up as an undi­ag­nosed autistic … I didn’t get my diag­nosis until I was 50 … and now I am trying to make sense of my life expe­ri­ences through this new lens which pulls so many con­fusing and upset­ting mem­o­ries into a clearer focus.

    And yet … even now … my mother doesn’t seem to under­stand that my diag­nosis means that i AM AND WAS dif­ferent … and that many of the things she did, albeit with the best of inten­tions, were dam­aging to me.

    I cannot have a sen­sible con­ver­sa­tion with her about any of this. I have tried, believe me I have. And yet, when­ever I try to explain that things that seem per­fectly rea­son­able from her neu­rotyp­ical stand­point were pro­foundly upset­ting to me, she just puts on her sar­castic voice and says “Awwwwww … you were SO hard done by”.

    She thinks that she and my father gave me a priv­i­leged upbringing (which I readily acknowl­edge) … and that is an end of it. I have nothing to com­plain about. So … I cannot have the dis­cus­sion with her about what didn’t (and doesn’t) work for me, and why. And so I am sure she will go to her grave thinking that she did all the right things for me, and will con­tinue to treat me as though I were neorotyp­ical in every way, because … this is how SHE would want to be treated if she were in my shoes, so it MUST be how I (unless I am a hope­lessly ungrateful, spoiled brat) should wish to be treated …

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