My apologies in advance for being so reactive this week. First the Yummy Mummy essay, then Britney and now, this post.
It all started with reading Dear Stranger, written by a woman caught in the predicament of whether or not to tell a stranger (after meeting her child once) that her son was autistic. The author wrote that she was convinced, watching him. That as a mother of an autistic son, she knew.
I recognized this pattern of behaviors immediately: Ben was autistic. And his mother didn't know yet.
When I was fourteen-years-old, I went to youth group. I wasn't a Christian, but I was social and all of the kids in the neighborhood went. One day, a youth pastor took me aside and told me my father was going to hell if he didn't convert to Christianity. I never went back to youth group again and from that point forward wanted nothing to do with Christianity at all.
In retrospect I realize the youth pastor was just doing what he thought was right. He was trying to save our immortal souls because he believed it was the only way to get us into heaven, a place I never believed in anyway. I try to remind myself of this when anyone tries to accost me with Christian literature or pamphlets or preach to me in the streets. I try to remind myself that they think they are doing the right thing. That they truly believe it is their moral obligation to "save" me.
Not unlike parents who take it upon themselves to preach the word of "I know your child better than you know your child" I have since Archer's birth, tried to understand where these men and women are coming from. I figured because I had a child so young, it was natural to be talked down to. So I smiled and nodded. I listened to stranger's unsolicited advice. Over and over again. They were concerned parents. Concerned that my child was somehow their responsibility.
After reading the Babble article I tried to reconcile what bothered me so much about it. The woman was clearly conflicted. And she seemed like a good person. I read her essay several times through. And yet, something was so painfully frustrating about reading her words. Something so condescending and competitive. Something that made me protective of my son and myself and all parents with delayed children on the "spectrum."
I started thinking about what it is about mothers, parents, people, that we think everyone and everything is our business. Why must we believe that other people's children are our responsibilities? Indeed it takes a village... to criticize.
This idea ties into my last post: It is my business to know your business and your business to know mine. People are spending so much time worrying about other people's children that they are ignoring their own, punishing other parent's children on the playground while their children wander off. Offering diagnosis based on projected information. Comparing. Comparing. Comparing.
As a mother of a child on "the spectrum" I have become very sensitive to people who think it is their place to do me a favor and lend insight about my child. My complex, unique child. They see things in him that cause for concern. They SEE. With their eyes. For minutes. And from that, they can determine his fate. They just know. They can decide what he needs and how to help him.
My husband thought my silence in the music class represented a "moral failure." He didn't care how awkward it would have been to approach a total stranger, or how unlikely it was that she would take my word over that of her doctor, who obviously had never suggested a problem of this magnitude. "You have a responsibility to the child," he said, simply.
And I say simply back: No you don't. You have a responsibility to your children but not to mine. Because nothing is so black and white. And it isn't a moral failure to let another parent do their job.
Of course, it could be argued that plenty of people are in denial or don't want to face the fact that their child has a "problem" but to me, it's all very tree falls in a forest. What constitutes as a problem? What does it mean to be diagnosed? What about the children since the beginning of time who weren't (diagnosed)? Not ten minutes later after reading the Babble piece, a dear reader sent me the following link to a an essay she thought I would appreciate after my various posts on the subject of Archer's developmental delays, Early Intervention and testing.
It was exactly what I needed to read after the Babble essay. Especially the following passage:
So what do we do about the eighth grader who alienates peers with his obsessive talk of baroque architecture, or the 6-year-old who'd rather spend recess talking to the hamster than playing dress-up with her classmates? Is it possible we shouldn't do anything? "Of course it is a source of deep sorrow when it is obvious that a youngster can never lead 'a normal life' because of special needs," says Dr. Elizabeth Berger, a child and adolescent psychiatrist whose books include "Raising Kids With Character."
*"All the same, there is something amiss when every mother is susceptible to fears whether or not this week's fashionable diagnosis applies to her child. There is something unexamined in our thinking when we elevate the need for normalcy to a state of spiritual grace, and live under a constant anxiety that we fail to measure up to its demands."
*The fashionability, or perhaps, obsession with normalcy is by far the issue that most infuriates me. The fear and anxiety placed on today's parents by doctors and books and peers who feel responsible for stranger's children, like the author of aforementioned Babble piece:
...Who better to help identify the tens of thousands of undiagnosed autistic toddlers and preschoolers out there than the parents who know autism better than any general practitioner — parents who have read the books, examined the research and seen firsthand the different manifestations autistic spectrum disorders can take?
While we're on the subject of unsolicited advice, I'll offer my opinion on who better to identify the tens of thousands of undiagnosed toddlers: the parents. Because Autism isn't black and white. And neither are children. And books and research and personal projections have nothing to do with my child or "Ben" or anyone else with "differences".
Parents will seek guidance when they are ready to do so. And if a parent chooses not to seek guidance, well then that is their decision, not the decision of a stranger.
To end on a high-note/Newsweek piece:
I eventually did consult experts. Some of what they said was helpful, but they offered no great, demystifying insights. I never really did expect anyone to totally peg my son; the fascinating little man changes on a daily basis. One day we call him Space Cookie, the next day Sweet Pea, the next our Tasmanian devil. But he is a whole person, the sum of all his average, stellar and quirky parts, and my job is much like any other parent's—to guide him when necessary, let go when I overdo it and constantly sweep for minefields (even ones I have inadvertently laid in his path) that threaten to obliterate his incredibly unique spirit. I can't wait to see who he becomes, this boy in a bright yellow canary suit, who insists on dancing to his own tune.
Eventually I consulted the experts as well. Experts as defined by me, the parent and much like the Newsweek author's experience, there was no real "diagnosis" for Archer. As I assumed, he was existing as he knew how to exist, happily, and in his own unique way. Even if that often meant spinning and wandering and laughing to himself in the corner...
Even if that meant looks from strangers making assessments, clutching their bibles.