When my son was first diagnosed with Autism, I found myself overwhelmed with worry. Like many parents in our situation, my biggest concern was about how this mysterious new label would negatively affect him.
For parents, any unique characteristic about your child, Autism or otherwise, isn’t seen as an immediate positive. You don’t think about how this will make them stand out or what new journeys it can take them on. The natural protective instincts kick in and you immediately wonder how it could somehow hurt this person you love more than anything.
Complicating things was the fact that I wasn’t sure what an Autism diagnosis entailed. Autism was something I saw on TV or from afar, but, at least as it affected my own child, I had no idea what it would look like in our lives.
His future seemed completely up in the air and the flood of concern came at me pretty fast. I stressed about when or if he would develop in certain areas. I imagined the aspects of his life that he might struggle with as he got older. I tried to picture his eventual achievements and failures. I worried about it all.
I also worried about what people would say.
We’re not supposed to admit that, right? We’re supposed to be strong people who don’t care about what others might think. We’re supposed to be the people who valiantly post memes on social media about how “If you don’t like me, too bad.” Caring about how others might view you or your loved ones is a sign of weakness and one that we all immediately dismiss.
Just to clarify, I didn’t care about people possibly judging me, as a parent, for having a child with Autism. I’m not sure how that leap of logic comes for some judgmental people, but I didn’t sweat it. It wasn’t an issue of, “What will they think of me?”
The concern was whether people would say things about it to hurt him or my family. That worry, as raw and blunt as it is, was a big one early on but it isn’t specific to Autism. That’s a worry for any parent of any child. In a world where everyone is striving to fit in, any small difference for your kid can be worrisome. What would everyone say?
Well, now that we’re many years down the line, I can tell you that – yes – people have said many different things. Most were positive, but there were always people with opinions about how we could “fix” him or what conspiracy theory may have “caused this”. There were responses that ranged from glowing to annoying. The comments, much like Autism itself, have fallen along a wide spectrum.
I can honestly tell you that in our lives, my son’s Autism, for all of its difficult times, has had many more wonderful times. I could reiterate that the fears I had in those early days never manifested themselves the way I was sure they would. I can tell you story after story that flies in the face of the nervous moments that I had at first. However, the reason to not worry about how other people might gossip or talk about your child is one that, once again, isn’t specific to his Autism. It’s one that all parents and all human beings in general all face.
People will talk about everybody and for any reason.
If your kid isn’t good at school, they gossip about how he’s not smart enough. If he is good at school, they gossip about how he isn’t allowed to have any time to “just be a kid”. If he’s heavy, he eats too much. If he’s skinny, he’s not eating enough. If he’s mean, he’s going to grow up to be a murderer. If he’s nice, he’s going to have people walking all over him. If he’s anything – anything at all – it’s dissected and debated among the masses. That’s what they do. That’s what most of us do.
Right now, there is probably someone talking about me and someone talking about you. It might not happen as often as we fear. It might not be as positive or as negative as we imagine, but it happens. The ironic twist is that there’s also someone else out there talking about them. It’s just the way it is.
Everyone has opinions on how you’re raising your children, whether your children are on the spectrum or not. My wife’s grandmother, who was solidly in her 90s, once wondered aloud if Lucas was delayed in his walking because I picked him up so much. To me, it was a silly question because, at that age, if I didn’t pick him up, he’d just lay in the same spot for months until he starved. She had her opinion and she wasn’t afraid to share it.
However, when my daughter, who is not on the spectrum, was a baby, Grandma also observed the new-fangled way we burped her. In an effort to fight acid reflux, doctors urged us to sit Olivia up, hold her chin, and lightly tap her back. To Grandma, familiar with the old over-the-shoulder approach, this was crazy. She always glared when we did it and refused to believe this could be real.
It looks like you’re choking her!
We dealt with that until, during a family dinner at a local restaurant, we saw another family doing the same maneuver with their own baby. I jumped up as if I had just seen Bigfoot and began wildly pointing to this other family, who must have thought I was insane.
Grandma! Look! Look at them! They’re doing it!
She smiled and put her head down. I felt vindicated and she never mentioned how we burped Olivia again. She did, however, mention many other things through the years. Again, that’s just what people do.
Some will use your child’s Autism against them while others might treat them nicer because of it. Most people, though, will fall somewhere in between. That’s holds true for any child, though. Some will love them. Some will hate them. Most will settle near the middle.
Don’t worry about what people might say before they say it. Handle what people do say when they say it. That’s all that matters. After all, you have a kid to raise. That’s enough to worry about.