Life on the Spectrum

Once upon a time, there were ads for Trix cereal in which a cartoon rabbit kept trying (and failing) to get his paws on some Trix. At the end of the ad, a child would announce, “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!” Sometimes I think the world of autism is like those ads, and autistic adults are treated like the silly rabbit.

A couple of years ago, the mother of an adult autistic son posted in an autism group on Facebook that I was a member of. The mom wanted to know how to find a girlfriend for her son. He already had a girlfriend, but Mom didn’t like her and wanted to find him another one.

“Why don’t you let him find his own girlfriend?” I asked.

I was immediately set upon by a number of “autism parents” who informed me that I must not know anything about autism, because if I did, I would know that it is impossible for autistic adults to find their own romantic partners without the assistance of their parents.

I informed them that I’d been in a romantic relationship for more than a decade (and had been in a number of relationships before that) and that my parents had not helped me pick any of my partners. Then I left the group.

This is, unfortunately, a common attitude among those who describe themselves as “autism moms” and “autism dads” who are not themselves autistic. They believe that those of us who are autistic adults have nothing to offer the parents of autistic children. This even extends to when these “children” are adults, as in the example above.

There have been many times that I’ve tried to offer my perspective on autism issues, only to be shot down by parents who declare that I am nothing like their child. My response to that is usually to say that of course I am nothing like their child now, as I am an adult, but I was a child once myself, and I had plenty in common with their child then. However, often the fact that I am able to participate in on line discussions is enough to make a parent declare that I am much too “high functioning” to give them advice about their child, even though they have never met me and have no idea how well I function in society.

All of us who are autistic adults were once autistic children. Even if we appear to “function” at a different level than a given autistic child, we still had, and may still have, many of the same issues as today’s autistic children, including some or all of the following: sensory issues; social skills problems; problems making and keeping friends; motor skills challenges that made it hard to participate in gym class or hold a pencil properly; and bullying. So why won’t parents listen to us?

I think one of the problems is that there are parents who disagree with autistic self-advocates on some fundamental issues, such as the idea of a cure. Parents who want their children to be cured won’t listen to an autistic adult who doesn’t want to be cured. Parents who insist on using person-first language may not listen to an autistic who insists identity-first language. Parents who consider autism to be a horrible curse that they must be rid of probably aren’t going to listen to autistic people who celebrate their autistic identity.

There are some parents who do listen to us. There are some parents who advise other parents to listen to us. I wish more of them would. I wish we could find more common ground. I hope that when today’s autistic children become autistic adults — and they will; there’s no doubt about that — they will find a world that has been made easier for them thanks to the efforts of today’s autistic adults.

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