Thursday, December 01, 2011

Breaking a Taboo about Parenting an Autistic Child

Facing Autism in New Brunswick alerted me to the existence of this blogpost regarding a subject that doesn't often come up in media discussions about autism:

Parenting an autistic child is violent towards you.

I wanted to publicize it because it's something that needs to be addressed.

This is where the shameful part really kicks in. In any other situation, if someone attacked you, the fight or flight reflex kicks in, but of course you can't fight back when your disabled child attacks you, because that is a child protection issue. Nobody considers that it's also a carer protection issue, and no carer wants to admit that they had the urge to fight back. I didn't want to harm her, and I didn't, but the urge was there. The urges included wanting to tear at her hair, putting my hands on her neck, slapping and punching her. In any other situation that would be accepted as a normal reaction, but when it's your child, it's met with shock and concern that you are an abuser. I repeat again that I did not act on these impulses, I did not harm her, but to be put in that situation is an unbearably hard thing for a parent to cope with.

The thing is: if you fight back and someone sees you doing it, you can be reported to Child Protection. Who can take your kid away, even if your only crime was trying to defend yourself.

Child Protection has this bad habit of assessing your entire parenting strategy and fishing for evidence of poor parenting, even if that was not the reason behind the initial concern.

And lots of us "normal" families engage in practices that may reflect poor parenting, but, on balance, represent the lesser of evils. For instance, you might let your kids eat more chocolate than they should, or go to bed at a late hour, or maybe not bathe as often as they should; or maybe you don't vacuum their bedroom as often as you should...and so forth. And when Child Protection discovers your "poor parenting" it can begin a whole vortex of "interventions".

Parents of autistic children are especially liable because the way you parent an autistic child is not the way you parent a normal kid. Your kid lives on chips and pop because that is literally the only thing they will eat. Your kid goes to bed at 2 a.m. because he's so revved up. You WANT your kid to have a bath everyday, but the kid has a meltdown if the bathwater isn't just right, etc.

I'm sure there are a lot of parents out there who fight back when their kids hit, but they say nothing about it. They hope it doesn't get back to Child Protection. And they live in fear.

What else are you supposed to do when your kid is about to physically harm you and he's almost as big as you are?

And for the record, my autistic daughters are not violent, thank goodness.

I simply wanted to speak out on this, because I can only imagine the isolation these parents must suffer. You can't really talk about it because it raises the spectre of you being an "abusive" parent, especially if you have hit back in the past.

When you parent an autistic child, you often live in a world of extremes, where the rules about normal kids don't apply.  But those who are outside that world often don't understand.