Tuesday, April 6, 2010

autism, appearances, and awareness

There has recently been much discussion about a blogger (Smockity Frocks) who mocked a child and her grandmother on her blog. The child showed many of the symptoms of autism. A huge stink was raised about how this mommy blogger, this Christian woman could mock a kid with special needs. Of course, the blogger had no idea the child was autistic; Smockity was just trying to be funny. At this kid's expense.

Since this incident, many bloggers have intensified their pleas that people raise awareness of autism, especially in light of April being Autism Awareness Month. I admit to feeling pretty ambivalent about this responsibility. There are times when I am just sick to death of hearing about autism. This disorder does not define us. Other times, I feel like a bit of a fraud. Danny is so high functioning, I can go days without even thinking about the A-word.

I like it that way, because autism is not who Danny is.

Still, I can't deny that it is part of his life. And mine, by extension.

But, this incident with Smockity Frocks has me thinking. A lot. About parenting and judging others and making mistakes. The thing is, what disturbed me most about Smockity's blog post was not that the child she described was autistic. No, what bothered me was that she was mocking a child and judging the girl's caregiver. The fact that she was probably autistic merely highlighted the scathing judgment.

And truthfully what really pained me was I could see myself in Smockity's snarky assessment of this supposedly spoiled child. See, Smockity made assumptions about this young girl based solely on her outward appearance and behavior. She decided after watching this girl for 10 minutes that she knew what was going on.

And I have done this.

I have been that person who judged someone by what they were wearing or how they spoke. I have, on occasion, looked down on people because their kids were so badly behaved. I have made so many assumptions (both good and bad) about people based upon their looks, it shames me to think of it. And I have mocked people under the guise of making a joke, which as my husband points out is the easiest kind of humor, the kind that takes no talent at all.

This is something I am not proud of, and it is something I am working on. And ironically, this is something I hope people won't do to me. I hope that people will give me the benefit of the doubt, as a mother, as a human being.

The Smockity post incensed many parents of kids with autism, because they don't want their kids to be mocked or judged in such a way. One major difficulty with autism compared to some other disorders or disabilities is that it is virtually invisible. Kids with autism look "normal." There are no wheelchairs or seeing eye dogs, no limps or hearing aids. It would be easy to look at a child with autism who is misbehaving and not realize that they deal with a disability on a daily basis. It would be very easy to judge them unfairly or assume their parents are spoiling them rotten.

And parents of autistic kids know this, and perhaps are even hypersensitive to the fact that others are jumping to conclusions about them. I know I am.

We parents hope that people will give us the benefit of the doubt. That they will smile compassionately rather than frown disdainfully when our kid misbehaves. We hope that people will show our kids love and understanding, even when they act in a way that is difficult to understand.

But isn't that really true of all of us? Don't we all have weaknesses that are invisible to the naked eye? Don't we all want to be given the benefit of the doubt? Don't most people hope that others will get to know them rather than basing their judgments on appearances?

Maybe we don't really need a special Autism Awareness Month message so much as a message about love and kindness and tolerance and on reserving judgement. My husband recently posted this to Facebook: "Want to be a nonconformist? Love everyone."

That about sums it up, I think.


For more posts about appearances, visit the Spin Cycle at Sprite's Keeper.


Stonefox said...

So true. Having an adopted child with major emotional and behavioral issues has pointed out my own "quick to judge" responses...that could be totally off. I am much less likely to do that now and quicker- I hope-to have compassion.

Evenspor said...

I hear you. Having a child with ADHD has made me feel bad for anytime I've ever judged another parent.

Ginny Marie said...

This is a wonderful post. I know that when my kids misbehave in public, I'll freak out because I think other people will think I'm a bad parent. I once took a screaming, crying Emmy to the check out counter so I could pay for my groceries and get out of there, and the cashier told me I was being a great mom because I wasn't caving in to Emmy's demands! Some people get it when you least expect it.

Sarah said...

This is a stellar post. Humanity is the most amazing and heartbreaking thing. I fall into the exact same trap and try to rationalize my "judgments" because I know damn well people judge me. Well that's just exhausting. The hardest company to keep is with yourself and I am trying very hard to do that because if I can reach some level of comfort independently, then the need to judge or the feeling to be judged should become irrelevant.

I also applaud Bil's comment---simplicity at its best.

Sprite's Keeper said...

I think we're ALL guilty of this, some more than others. I tried to find the offending post, but she may have removed it. I did see the apology and it sounded heartfelt so the angry mob should be able to put away their swords of contention, no? I like how you are able to see from both sides of the fence, from the side in which your child is being judged and the side in which you're judging other children.
It's an inherent fact of life that we will compare our own to others. I do it even when I don't want to. I compare Sprite to other kids all the time! I admit this! Do I say it out loud? Not mostly. I have one coming out next week about John and me policing the playground and I wouldn't say it mocks other kids, but doesn't paint them in a pleasant light. Luckily, Sprite was one of the offenders, so no worries there. ;-)
Truly wonderful words and from the heart. You're linked!

Maureen@IslandRoar said...

Couldn't have said it better myself!
We judge to make ourselves feel better. Poor reason.

Heather said...

Great post, very eye opening.
Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Keri said...

What a good reminder for all of us. Thank you for all the great advice...I've definitely stepped up our deep pressure therapies during the daytime. I'm hoping the more regular intervals will help (rather than waiting until right before a meltdown...duh). Btw, did you get your book?

Lisa @ Boondock Ramblings said...

I think we all judge, are snarky, or rude at times and later catch ourselves and feel guilty. I certainly know I have. Your thoughts help put it even more in perspective and remind us not to judge...I've decided only to make fun of my own child from now on. (I'm kidding! Kidding! )

Elizabeth Channel said...

I am so glad you weighed in on this story because I plan to soon and just haven't organized my thoughts enough yet.

I do believe that sometimes having a child on the "high functioning" end can at times be even more complicated because his or her behavior in some situations is so neurotypical yet in other situations it is so aberrant.

It's sort of like living in a "no-man's" land because you never really feel secure. At least that is how I feel.

I almost feel like I have two children at times--one who displays extremely disruptive behavior and is treated one way in one situation, like school, and another who is not honestly identified as anything more than mildly hyperactive in another situation, such as a sporting event.

Anyone else feel like this?

CaJoh said...

I think that way too often we tend to judge people on appearances alone. We never take the time to see how people "are" and label them on how they look rather than accepting people's behavior and working with it.

Excellent Spin,

Elle Em En said...

I love the last line by your husband. What a great thought.

I think that we all judge on appearances at sometime or another in our lives.

However, if we are aware of it and do our best to be conscientious of what we say and do then I think we are one step ahead.

Great Spin. Thanks for sharing, and thanks for the comment.

gretchen said...

What an honest and thought provoking post! I'm afraid that I too am guilty of making a joke at the expense of someone, and then regretting it deeply. I just hate that in myself.

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU. Patty, you said this so well. My son was diagnosed with SPD nearly 2 years ago. I'm so encouraged by you and your blog!

Hartley said...

Great post! I agree that more tolerance and less judgement would be a great message for Autism Awareness Month.

I am happy you received my book -- and I can't wait to see your review!


bernthis said...

My dad was very very judgmental when I was growing up. horribly. and thus so was I. Since my divorce I tell you I really work hard not to b/c I really believe until you've walked in someone else's shoes you have no business judging them or their choices.

Joanie M said...

Wonderful spin!
John's oldest son is autistic. He a 33 year old man/wonderful 5 year old child. He lives in an adult group home in NC. I met JP when John was diagnosed with cancer and his younger son came home from Iraq (Mark is with the 82nd Airborne) to see him "just in case". Thank God "just in case" hasn't happened... to either of them!

Anyway, back to JP. JP is quite a chatterbox. He has an amazing memory! He had vivid details of going to church with his parents in Alaska when he was 3 years old, right down to the hymns that were sung and who was there! His mother kept trying to shut him up, but I found him delightful and charming and could have listened to his stories all day!

I hope I get to spend some time with JP again in the future. His mother can stay home. I want to listen to JP's stories!

Anonymous said...

Great post amd great comments.

My kids were pretty great when they were young (still are) and I guess I bragged on them a little too much... not on purpose... I was just proud. Once, one oc mine did something not quite so good...can't even remember what it was now, but, one of the 2nd grade teachers made the comment "
Thank God one of yours
FINALLY did something wrong. I was so sick of hearing about your "perfect" kids!... Wasn't quite sure HOW I was supposed to take that backhanded compliment!

Mrsbear said...

I read the post earlier this week. And while it did seem a little self-righteous at times, I can admit I've seen myself in that situation, looking at a child that's misbehaving and criticizing the parents' reaction in my head. It's a lousy habit, regardless of the struggles a kid has, nobody likes to have their parenting judged by someone who knows nothing of the situation, but who expects every kid and every situation to conform to expectation and that rarely happens.

I've been trying to curb criticisms. It takes practice, but listening to someone rant and rave about another's choices makes you realize how ugly the habit is.

beckmarsh said...

This post made me think of something we often giggle about. We were at a park and a boy (probably about 8) was walking around saying, over and over, "SCUBA! Self contained underwater breathing apparatus. SCUBA!" I thought it was really cute and funny and whenever we hear about scuba diving we say it. It's a difficult line to walk, I think. It *is* hard to know if a child is autistic (or in this case maybe Tourettic). I think in that case I assumed he was precocious and a person who loved language.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I'm with you. Thank you for this honest post.

Rikki said...

This is wonderfully and painfully true - I learned a few difficult lessons about this when I first started teaching.

a Tonggu Momma said...

Although I've always "known" that compassion is usually more on target than judgment, it took parenting a child who arrived in our home at 12 months with serious behavior, sensory and attachment issues for me to truly "get" it. Thank you for this post.