Wednesday 5 April 2017

Why blocking autistic adults isn't helping your children - and a little about faith

Hello.  I'm Ann.  I'm autistic.  My son is autistic.  Other family members are.  Most of my friends are.  Most of my national autism work colleagues are.  I've worked in autism for more than 20 years.  I advise the All Party Parliamentary Group for Autism, and serve as the Vice Chair of the Advisory Board, unpaid, external. I am a senior trainer for the NAS-award-winning group, Autism Oxford UK.  I am a Christian, and help advise churches across the country on how to respond with love to autistic people.  I am co-writing a book on autism and theology with a fine theological friend.

I am not at a 'mild end' of autism, whatever that is.
For the first ten years, I did not use language to communicate, and didn't know what people were.  I knew who God was, though.  It didn't matter to him.
I rocked, I flapped, I panicked, I ran away in supermarkets to get away from the terrible noise and chaos.  
I'm still autistic.

If I read an autism 'awareness' poem that tells me autism is about violence, aggression, eating dirt, obsessions, screaming, head-banging, won't do as their told...I think, "Oh my goodness...In fact, in the whole poem, there are only two positive things.

Who would want to befriend an autistic child after reading this?
Who would want to hire an autistic person after reading this?
Who would want an autistic child in their church after reading this?

Yes, some children of all kinds are violent, autistic or not.   Autism isn't the cause.
Yes, some children of all kinds scream, or eat dirt, or self-harm to escape pain.  We see an epidemic of self-harm amongst teenage girls, for example.  Autism isn't the cause.

Most autistic people are gentle, kind, thoughtful, quiet.  We might rock, or flap, or run away from scary things - but anyone else would run away from scary things too, when young.

I've brought up an autistic child and been around autistic children for 20 years, helping with toddler groups, being a child minder, being a youth leader in churches, being a helper in schools. Advising schools on autistic children. Advising parents on autistic children.

I start by thinking, "Is this necessary, to talk about the child in this way, when they can read, and hear....or may soon be able to read and hear and understand?"   Is it kind?   Is it going to give a better future?

I was in tears today.  Absolutely devastated to open my social media and see people in positions of huge huge responsibility and media presence, unaware of the shocking impact of describing autism in endless negative ways.

You see, it's not just one article, one poem.  It's relentless.  Every day.  Every single day.  We wade through article after article, poem after poem, story after story, describing us as a nightmare.

"Oh but we love our children".  I'm sure you do.
Which is why you have to stop blocking people like me, and start listening.
Yes, you're tired.  Yes, you're exhausted.  It's people like me who are fighting to make your child's future better, alongside you.
Blocking us, when we say 'this hurts'?   No, that's not a good place to start from.
Be aware of the suicide rate for autistic young people, and indeed autistic people of all ages.  Please keep negativity away from your children and where they can later find it and read it.

God loves autistic people as they are.  And we are not a long long list of negatives.

Thank you for listening.