Friday 11 October 2019

Autism: Changing the Narrative

A mosaic bowl in which white cards have been placed, saying gentle, thoughtful, love, kindness, peace

It's been quite a journey away from tragedy-thinking, for me, and of course for so many others working in the autism industries.

For those looking for respectful and appropriate ways to aid autistic children, may I recommend the following approach: Change the narrative.

In other words, instead of seeing deficit, disorder, disaster, tragedy, fault, choose to see humanity, uniqueness.

Instead of seeing 'manipulation' by a child, choose to see a desperate attempt to meet a need.

Instead of seeing a deliberate attempt to 'get attention' by self-harm, choose to see distress behaviour as a possibility, and consider how to check for pain, illness, injury, sensory environment difficulties, fear, trauma, exhaustion, need for processing time.

Instead of seeing the 'fault' as being within the autistic child, choose to think about what of your own behaviour, your own approach, your own timing and expectations, *may* have led to a situation or made it worse.

Instead of seeing normalisation as a goal, choose to consider whether different is OK. Obviously keeping safety in mind, of course. Instead of seeing it as a battle to be won, choose to see it as a chance for both to learn together, to take time out to calm and re-centre.

Seek out autistic specialists who can work on sensory environment triggers that non-autistic people cannot always detect.

Seek out autistic trainers and their allies, working together to bring authentic first hand experience as well as knowledge.

Instead of believing that no autistic child can learn skills without crushing workloads from a particular team, assume competence. Believe they can learn in their own time, with the right support from the right professionals.

Instead of believing that autism equals low IQ, think about using different testing systems.

Instead of believing no verbal speech equal no abilities, think differently.

Most of all, be a role model for your fine young person. Be the ally they need. A friendly presence. A reassuring and calm personality. A gentle and considerate companion. And watch them thrive.

It took me a while to figure out. That's human nature, isn't it. We all learn.

I'm grateful for many individuals over many years, who have challenged, provided me with materials that have caused me to think and reflect.  And I am especially grateful for the narratives from individuals who have had treatments and therapies that have left them deeply damaged.  I very much hope that, together, we can all learn to do better.