For Those Who Judge My Child’s Autism From Afar

The Internet can sometimes make me angry. In fact, social media seems to relish in it.

Whether politics, insults, or just that lady who can’t stop posting quizzes to find out what type of bread she is, there’s always something to make me tilt my neck with annoyance on different levels. There are times when I am being touchy and times when I am justified. Either way, though, there are times when my anger is stoked for the sake of stoking.

The worst, however, are the ones that are purposely there to make you upset. Whether a news story or a screenshotted comment, it sits rights there like a Bunsen burner of irritation, ready to make my blood boil.

It’s someone, completely unaffected by autism, mercilessly judging someone else’s life because of autism.

You know the posts I am talking about. It’s someone lamenting how sad it must be for a child to live each day without understanding the world around them. Perhaps, they heap their sadness on the parents for having to “worry” or care for these children into their old age. It’s a laundry list of misery that they’ve set out to describe from afar with no firsthand knowledge of the people they’re even judging. Often, it’s a four-sentence gut punch responding to a clickbait headline or an internet video they haven’t watched.

Those are not the people I write this blog for.

jdgThey’re not. I started writing about my family in 2017 for a few reasons. The most prominent one was my non-verbal eight-year-old, Lucas. The goal was to find common ground from other families like ours so I can ease concerns for those earlier in their journeys and gain inspiration from those farther along.  It was to help others and to help myself.

It was also to explain our life to those who want to understand how a father can find beauty in the qualities autism has brought to his child, rather than despite it. I wanted to paint a picture that wasn’t bleak or painful. It was a painting of love and happiness. It’s real and it’s true and it’s something that I needed to tell the world. I still do.

Those are the people I write for. Not those self-appointed judges, sitting behind a screen somewhere, voicing some manufactured concern dripping in cruelty and shouting “next” upon hitting the enter key.

They shout “next” because, make no mistake, their “expertise”, or lack thereof, isn’t limited to autism and the families affected by it. Those who judge my child and my relationship with him will also judge anything else they don’t know. Whatever the belief, whatever the group, whatever the family, these people will have an uninformed opinion that they will scream from the rooftops. If you don’t like it, they’ll swear the problem is you.

It’s not. It’s them. It’s their undying need to slam down their thoughts and get them into the universe in the angriest way possible. They dress it up as a genuine opinion. It’s really just a way to get the anger out of their own heads and into ours.

It’s easy to let them do it too. They tap into your darkest fears and say them out loud in the harshest way possible. Do I worry about my son’s future? Yes. Then again, I worry about my daughter’s future. I worry about my own future. Knowing my heart could stop at any moment or a truck could drive into my living room during an episode of The Simpsons are all worries that I face. It doesn’t take a genius to see a father walking his non-verbal son down the street and think, “That guy must worry about that boy’s adulthood.”

That doesn’t make raising him a chore or a constant heartache. It makes him a responsibility and the only reason I accept that responsibility is because I love him. You worry about the things you love. So, to point out that I worry about my child is to point out that I love him. There’s no reason to shake your head sadly and express it as something to pity. If so, then maybe they’ve never really loved something. That’s sad for them, not for me.

bwlI’ve read all the thoughts about how hard it will be for my son and all the things that they assume he doesn’t understand. It’s enough to make me want to write a post listing everything he comprehends that, while apparent to me, isn’t so easily seen by some stranger demanding proof. I could give them a comprehensive checklist of cognitive abilities and skills. I could spend hours justifying my child to them. But I don’t. You know why?

Because it’s not about him. And it’s not about me. When it comes to these critics of the world, it’s about themselves. It’s about how viewing a family like ours makes them feel about their own abilities in the face of a “challenge”.

There’s no pity for me or for Lucas. I didn’t ask for their concern and, even though they dress it up that way, they don’t actually offer it. Their tough love observations and tsk tsks from three checkout lines over at the supermarket doesn’t mean a thing about their worry for our future. That’s obvious. It’s obvious because, as they can plainly see, we’re handling things just fine.

Instead, they think about how they would never be able to deal with a situation like ours. They picture the slightest challenge as immeasurable and wonder if they would have the strength to go through it all with the grace and poise that my child does. They see our family and think, “I don’t know if my family could do that.”

And, it may sound harsh, but I might as well return the tell-it-like-it-is favor. They can’t. It’s not just a child with autism either. It’s any wrench in the works thrown their way. They worry they’ll fall apart and, if they’re reacting so strongly to simply watching someone else deal with it like a boss, so to speak, then they will. They’ll crumble before they even begin.

It takes love, understanding, and the ability to move forward without critiquing others. My son receives no judgment from me and, because of him, I offer none to other families I see. No one gets my pity. No one gets my scorn. No one gets anything other than support and compassion. My opinion is only given when asked. Even then, it’s said from the heart, not from fear that I couldn’t handle their world. I know that I can. I know that love conquers all.

So let them shake their heads. Let them post their thoughts with an “unpopular opinion” tag. Let them speak their mind. They’re not here right now anyway. Like I said, I don’t write this for them.