Autism Watch: 2007

Reinventing Advocacy

Posted on: July 1, 2011

Recently, I had a discussion with someone about how my advocacy style was so different from hers. She’s gung-ho about telling everyone she meets about autism, blogs about it frequently and does it without the protection of anonymity, and most conversations end up including autism to some extent. Me, on the other hand, I don’t mention it so much. Not only does my husband not care for it when I tell a random stranger, even for the purposes of perhaps helping one more person understand our kids, but I am tired of getting the ‘huh? uhm, yeah, okay’ response. I blog with anonymity, referring to my beautiful son as Barnacle Boy, a childhood nickname due to his attachment to me (still) and don’t want him ever reading this when he grows up. I also don’t want the people that I run into to feel like they aren’t going to be open with me for fear of showing up in my blog someday. (I know people who’ve found themselves the subject of a negative blog entry or comment, and being the social outcasts we autism moms already frequently are, why up the number of people who don’t know how to talk to us?) I also try to not include autism in every conversation — let’s face it, after almost seven years of a diagnosis, my friends know what life is like, they understand when I’ve had a bad day, and I only need a few words to convey what’s really going on. Saying “school called again” with a sigh is enough. Or just saying “it’s been a long day” suffices. They get it.

I think a lot of it has to do with the fact I’m not immersed in treatment 24/7 right now. I used to be. I had to be. My BB would bang his head on the floor in pain and/or anger and frustration, and he’d pull out his eyelashes. He’d bite himself, and us, tags and normal clothing textures made it hard for him to get dressed — and stay that way — and crying babies would throw him into a tailspin. His communication skills were off, he had no eye-contact, and the random stranger touch freaked him out. And then there’s the running away, the sensory issues, the other behavioral issues, and the social skill deficits. In many, many ways, there’s been vast improvement. Most people would look at him now and wonder why we’re so worried. But those would be people who didn’t see where we’ve been. They didn’t see us with bitemarks and bags around our eyes from lack of sleep or worry. They didn’t have to sit with us through a blood test to check his blood sugar level that was too high during last month’s physical (which was a wreck itself, because he hates being touched by strangers and of course, the doctor wants him to be almost completely undressed and that doesn’t fly with BB) nor go with us to the dentist, which was only two months ago that we had to switch because he bit the guy and caused him to novocaine his own hand.

But we know. And that’s why I continue to advocate, but in my own way. I focus on educating those that have direct interaction with BB, or those that ask me because they want to know more or know another family dealing with autism. I still throw out info to the random stranger sporadically, but I figure that unless there’s a reason, I don’t need to necessarily give them our story when I don’t know what they’re dealing with at home. Years ago, a woman felt the need to chastise me in public for telling my kids, while I was writing a check in a crowded store, to quiet down.  “You are so blessed to have them, you should remember that.” Uhm, okay? “Yes, I am blessed, I know that because of fertility issues that required a lot of fight to get my family size to where it is today, which isn’t your business anymore than telling me to not tell them to quiet down. Thanks and have a nice day!” Moral of that story? You never know what that other person already has dealt with, or is dealing with, so pick and choose who you give the autism story to. My feelings are that advocacy is most successful when used judiciously. Sometimes we are advocating for ourselves — it makes us feel better, but just makes the other person feel worse, and it is no longer advocacy.

My goal is to advocate for my son in a way that helps him, and the autism population at large, but without constant intrusion or sounding like a broken record. I have three other children, a full-time job, and a husband. I only have so much time and energy to go around, and for my sanity, I need to move on to other topics. My friends need me to move onto other topics. They need my listening ear, and to do that properly, I need to be able to focus on them; the time will come when I need them, again, and the friendships I’ve kept while on this autism rollercoaster are more valuable to me than I can possibly ever convey to them. The few strong solid friends who I will call friends forever are worth more to me than the many that I lost because they couldn’t understand why I couldn’t get through a five-minute phonecall without hearing BB cry or get upset in the background; they couldn’t deal with my being unable to go out to their house without BB having a meltdown or they’d get freaked out when he’d hide under a table; they couldn’t risk their child having to witness mine crying because he was again left out of a game or because I wouldn’t let the other kids call him names; mainly, they refused to understand autism and my son’s odd professorial-type of vocabulary fooled them into thinking he was just a brat and we were bad parents, with the fact that we had three other children, all older, who weren’t ‘brats.’ The list goes on, and there are times I wish I could really give those people a trip through time to show them what life was like, what we’ve been through, and most of all, what my amazing brilliant son has gone through, and how far he has come.

Our children are the epitomy of courage. They don’t give up. They are examples and should be seen as the brave people they are and that’s where I want to focus my advocacy efforts for now. I don’t want to raise money to go in some administrator’s pocket or tell me what gene my son has that’s not right, nor tell me some other reason why it’s my fault he has autism. Sure, I want to know the reason so we can prevent other families from going through this, but I also think money rarely goes to the families who need it the most — those dealing with it now. One-income, two-income, ‘rich,’ poor, it doesn’t matter. It’s too hard to get help, and as a result, we learn to do it ourselves, and that’s advocating for our child in a way no one else can do anyway. So even when we’re not publicly advocating, we’re privately advocating, and that’s enough for me.

 

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