Autism Watch: 2007

Tolerance Within the Autism Community

Posted on: September 12, 2008

One thing that strikes me as odd, as perplexing and disturbing, is that despite how we parents of autistic children want and expect tolerance everywhere — school, restaurants, airplanes, churches, anywhere — how quickly we turn when our child or our child’s class has a difficult experience with another special needs child.

I use the word “we” obviously as a generality, not a blanket statement because this doesn’t apply to everyone, but “we,” the parents of autistic children, are our own community. Within that community, we share our stories of school problems, insurance issues, health dilemmas. We seek support and information, and we commiserate, truly commiserate, with others within our community. But, apparently that stops when another special needs child bites our kid…pushes him on the playground…disrupts his studies one day in class…says something mean, and so on.

Now, I’m not saying that we should put up with anything that other special needs children do, but how can we rant about what a neurotypical (aka non-autistic) child does to our autistic child, when we do it ourselves? How can we expect others to be more tolerant if we exemplify “do as I say, not as I do?” Doesn’t real tolerance mean understanding that the other special needs child needs that same compassion we want when it’s our child causing the problem?

I’ve been on both sides of this. I’ve been the parent of the child treated badly by a neurotypical kid, the parent of the child punched by another autistic child, and the parent of the child biting another child. (And the child he bit? Autistic as well…but to be an equal opportunity problem, he has punched a non-autistic child, too.) I know how frustrating it is when you have to fix your child’s boo-boos that were caused by someone else. And I know how frustrating it is when you have the school call you to tell you your child hit someone else, and the parent is unhappy. Neither side is a pleasure. Maybe having been on both sides has helped me to understand it more — maybe it takes having your child be the problem at least once to truly get what it is like, the mix of emotions that you feel, the need to protect your child but the knowledge that he hurt another child, or hurt the child’s feelings.

I met a parent recently who wanted to call the police because a child in her daughter’s special-needs classroom bit her daughter, a couple of days after the child pushed her daughter. She was angry, and wanted something done. I didn’t blame her, I understood the need for a quick and safe resolution. But it also needed to be fair. And fair to both. Sure, the other child shouldn’t bite and shove, but where was the teacher? Why wasn’t there supervision? And why isn’t that supervisor, or the person who failed to secure it, the one in trouble? And why call the police? Did I mention that this child was 8? People don’t realize what calling the police does. It mars the child’s future, it leaves a nasty spot on his/her record, and that of the parents. And autism is widely misunderstood, so the special needs child who clearly needs more supervision and behavior training gets to learn to deal with the police, seeing his parents stressed, and all the legal hoopla that it brings. Who in the world wants to bring that onto another family?

In short, if we’re going to ask the world to accept our children, we have to be ready to accept our children.

Mine, yours, all.

If we want the general public to tolerate our children’s behaviors, we can’t be the pot calling the kettle black…or calling the police or making a scene with another family because their child displays behaviors due to their disability. If we want fairness, we have to display fairness in return. It only works when we all want the best for all our children, not only when it suits us.

If you’re faced with a situation where another special needs child hurts your child or upsets your child’s classroom, remember what it feels like. Remember that support is critical. Remember that this family may or may not have the support or knoweldge they should have, that you may have. Be a help, and in the spirit of a resolution that works for all, don’t take it out on their child. In the wrong situation, it could be your own. What kind of response would you want then?

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2 Responses to "Tolerance Within the Autism Community"

Oh, this is a tough one, isn’t it? Of course we all want to be tolerant, but you’re right: when it comes to our kid “vs” another kid, to each her own. It’s a sad but true fact. I hope we can all remember that every child is Somebody’s child and therefore each deserves their own dose of tolerance.

This is a great topic!

I have been on all sides of this fence and I usually do not get angry at the other child or the other child’s parents. I ask the same questions you did, where was the teacher/ aide? what triggered this incident? My oldest son has been primarily the focus of this because his behaviors are out of control and other kids tell their parents and their parents complain. Well, he has learned many things from other kids at school that he should not be learning but I do not blame the children or the parents, I wonder where the supervision is. I try and teach my son as best as I can at home and I hope other parents do but once they are in school, we do not have the control, that is the teacher/ aide. I have seen my son beg and cry that he doesn’t want to go to school because he has no friends because he is a “bad boy”. How do we react to that? Where is the tolerance and unification that we try and create for our children then? It is not the other children – they cannot control themselves – sometimes, it’s the adults in their lives and that even includes me as a parent as well.
I hope you understood what I was trying to say. AWESOME topic.

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