Journalists camped outside of St Mary’s Hospital in London
For weeks, the eyes of the world have been on Great Britain. We all, even those of us for whom the royals are a mystery, waited with bated breath for the Duchess to deliver an heir to the throne.
The royal family is undeniably interesting, but Kate and William are captivating. They are modern. They are real. They are open and seemingly accessible. They are poised and graceful, generous and compassionate. They smile. A lot. They are as down to earth as anyone living in that bizarre circumstance could possibly be.
So we watched. And waited. And waited some more. Every online news outlet had an entire section of their website dedicated to the Royal Baby Watch.
Finally, however many days late, the baby arrived. I’m fairly certain that one could successfully argue that no other birth has been more widely anticipated nor more closely watched, thanks to our twenty-four hour news cycle and its delivery to every device in our home. Even the one in our hand.
Throughout the process, I thought of Kate. I empathized with her. I imagined what it would have been like when I was expecting my first child to have had reporters staked out outside the hospital, to have had my every move scrutinized. I thought of how hard it had been with none of that. And how suffocated I would have felt by any part of it. I didn’t envy her, but I admired her. While it might be borne of a false sense of intimacy, I trust her to know what’s important and what’s not. To decide what tradition dictates that she has to do and what her Mama (Mummy) gut tells her that she can do her own way.
I have an autistic daughter. When she was born, I had no idea that was the case. Because of that, I have a tendency to look at infants now and wonder what the future holds for them in a very different way than I would have before. I wonder what their personalities might look like, their temperaments, how their unique constellations of challenge and talent might affect their experience of the world. It’s natural, I think, to wonder.
So when the royal baby was born, I wondered. And I did so aloud, because that’s what I do here. But this wondering came with far more layers than usual. Because the world was watching. And will continue to be as the baby grows. And, consciously or not, we will be, in some way or ways, emulating Kate. What would happen, I wondered, how would the world change for people with autism, if the infant prince turned out to be among their ranks?
442 of you ‘liked’ the question, which I assume means that you joined me in the philosophical exercise of asking it. 155 readers had something to say about it. The vast majority of those said, “I had the same thought!” but many others condemned me for voicing it. How dare I wish autism upon the prince, they said.
My reaction to the comments was as layered as my question had been. First and foremost, I was confused by the fact that wondering had been taken to mean wishing or hoping. It didn’t. It doesn’t. It means what it says – wondering. I wondered what the world would be like if this baby, with all the eyes of the world on him, were autistic. Period.
But .. I had to ask .. why would it be so awful if I had? Wished it on him, that is.
Now, I’m going to qualify this. I think that being autistic and living the life that this particular child will live would be extraordinarily (in both the literal and figurative senses of the word) challenging. As I said in response to a commenter who mentioned this, I can only imagine how difficult that life would be for me, no less for Brooke. Big events are hard for her, crowds are painful, keeping still is a Herculean challenge. That life would be harder than most for anyone, but it would be nearly impossible for her to navigate comfortably.
Nonetheless, if their child were to have the kind of sensory challenges that Brooke has, or a similar need for structure and consistency, I would trust Kate and William to find ways to creatively accommodate him.
I think their entry into this community would do the world at large a lot of good. I think their grace and compassion and realness would serve them and their child well. I would envision them educating people en masse. This is what our child needs, they might say. This is how he can succeed. This is what ALL people need, they would show the world by extension. This is how we can ALL succeed TOGETHER.
I know that my vision might sound Pollyannic. I know that royals are infamous for hiding disability. But I have faith that that would be one of the traditions that would give way to Kate’s Mummy gut, that she would eschew in the name of dignity, of humanity, of progress.
But the crux of this, the real reason that I felt the need to revisit it, is that so many of you “accused” me of wishing autism upon this child. And while I wasn’t (see above if you need the refresher), I have to wonder why the very idea is framed as an accusation. What does it say about us when we think that wondering if a child might be autistic is offensive?
When we say, “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy” as one commenter did, what are we really saying? Are we truly comfortable painting autism, in any and all of its myriad forms, as a scourge that we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemies? I am not. And I shudder to think how reading that must feel to the autistic people whom I am so grateful to have as part of the Diary community.
To the parents in the crowd, I beseech you to remember that we are joined here by autistic friends. I urge you to keep them in mind when you choose your words. I urge you to remember that they are ALWAYS with us because we are all in this world together, the adults along with our children, who are watching, taking their cues about how they should feel about this integral part of who they are – about themselves – from us.
So yes, I wondered aloud about how different our world might be were the tiny prince one of ours. I didn’t wish. I didn’t hope. I wondered. But either way, I will continue to work for a world in which none of those things could ever be construed as offensive.