There appears to be a divide in society over how to properly raise autistic kids. I find this most noticeable during social media conversations between adult autistics who grew up misunderstood and mistreated, and parents of autistic children who care deeply for their autistic children. The latter don’t realize they might be making decisions that will inevitably produce more adult autistics who grew up misunderstood and mistreated.
Children are people, not property.
Until we fully embrace this notion as a society, as a worldwide community, we will continue to allow many of our fellow citizens to pass through childhood without meeting their basic social-emotional needs.
Rearing children is a social contract you make with society. You are stating through your actions that you want to contribute to raising the next generation, and with that commitment comes certain responsibilities.
re·spect | \ ri-ˈspekt \
The model of peaceful parenting is predicated on respect. Any relationship, in order to be successful and not characterized by some level of abusive behavior, requires a foundation of respect.
When you regard the humanity of someone, you take their needs and preferences into account when making decisions. You speak well of them to others, and you recognize that even though you may have disagreements, a failure to achieve clear communication does not mean the other person’s actions make them less of a human being.
Someone whom you perceive to have wronged you still deserves to have their basic needs met — including social and emotional needs. And while peaceful parenting is beneficial to children regardless of their neurological alignment, it is absolutely crucial in raising autistics.
Motivation: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic
Many people are intrinsically motivated. Autistic people are often profoundly so. For this reason, in addition to myriad others, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is considered by many advocates to be deeply destructive to the psyche of autistic people. Forcing intrinsically- motivated beings to work for extrinsic rewards is demeaning and disheartening.
Intense emotional storms require calm surroundings
All children are learning to regulate their emotions. Very few adults are any good at regulating their emotions consistently, and children have decades less experience than the most regulated adult.
Autistic children exist in a state of heightened stress almost constantly, and a lot of what is perceived as challenging behavior is actually a manifestation of a child reaching a tipping point – collapsing over the edge of the limits of their mental and emotional endurance.
Sensory overwhelm causes extreme suffering.
Imagine walking into a room with a television turned up to maximum volume, a telephone ringing in another room, a fly buzzing around your face, water dripping from a mysterious spot on the ceiling into your hair and running down into your eyes, wind blowing through an open window which pushes your hair across your nose and mouth over and over again while someone tries to have a conversation with you– particularly one where instructions are involved about a task that is required of you, and boy, they are getting impatient.
This is what sensory overload can feel like. It’s often maddening to the point of intense emotional anguish and actual physical pain. How can we expect children to navigate this hellscape of sensory input with grace? Would any neurotypical person handle a similar situation better? I truly doubt it.
When we begin to examine the way society treats children, particularly disabled children, it becomes increasingly obvious that the littlest among us are granted the least human rights. Would an adult sit through a “therapy” session where they were rewarded for completing tasks that were excruciatingly uncomfortable, even painful for them, at the risk of having something precious to them withheld when they couldn’t comply?
An adult would endure that if they wanted to, right? But what if they didn’t have a choice? What if they had to participate in activities that mortified them, or that they weren’t physically, emotionally, or mentally capable of doing at that time? What if they were shamed for a perceived failure? What if they were made to feel powerless, over and over again– never good enough?
This is how mainstream society has taught us to raise children for a very, very long time. Regardless of neurology, this is a terrible way to treat our fellow humans– particularly the most vulnerable among us.
This is also ABA– the treatment many professionals recommend for autistic children– which goes completely against their intrinsic nature, and by design disregards the root causes of their struggles.
“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” ― L.R. Knost, Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages