I wanted to find an image of an actual Welcome mat, but then I found this and it’s got wellies AND a rainbow, and well, doesn’t it just make you feel welcome? Moving on …
I’ve been struggling with something. Wrestling with right and wrong and the rights of the wronged and egos and bruised feelings and their context vis-a-vis the burden of a greater purpose that cares not for perceived slights but a heart that does.
I’ve been trying to find the words to say what I need to say without drawing or encouraging or hell, even recognizing lines in the sand because my raison d’être here is erasing the lines not reinforcing them, and yet I worry that all these words will do precisely what I am writing them to avoid.
A neurotypical parent sent me an e-mail the other day. She was hurt. She didn’t feel heard. She felt that I was playing favorites in my responses to comments, proven by my validation of a comment by an autistic commenter with whom she disagreed, and, fairly enough, with whom she knew that I fundamentally disagreed as it related to a specific part of the comment. She said that Diary no longer felt like a safe space in which to voice an opposing opinion.
I didn’t write back. My response in the moment wouldn’t have been the one that I would have wanted to give her. I was tired. I was angry. I was frustrated. I was tired. Yeah, I said tired twice.
I went back to the comment thread to which she was referring and I made my validation of the autistic reader’s comment clearer, more specific, more conditional, as it were. It felt wrong. All of it. But I couldn’t keep wrestling. I just didn’t have it in me. So I walked away. Or I tried.
You see, these conversations don’t leave me. Katie and I were just joking about Luau’s reaction to our shared propensity to perseverate on, well, everything. “Just stop thinking about it,” we said in Daddy voice and then dissolved into laughter at the absurdity of his suggestion. “Has he met us?” we asked sarcastically.
And so I’ve been thinking about it. Because I never want Diary to feel unsafe. For anyone. I want everyone here who approaches respectfully to be respected in return. I want, no I crave, dialogue. Dialogue that makes us all question our thinking, consider our biases, examine our perspectives, and, ultimately, grow. I want anyone and everyone with something to say to be heard.
Yeah, there’s a But.
No matter what I, or any neurotypical person, parent or otherwise, may think about a given topic as it relates to autism, I will never tell an autistic person that their interpretation nor expression of their own experience is invalid, nor support anyone else who is doing the same.
If an autistic person chooses to generalize a particular aspect of the autistic experience to others while I may caution against us as parents doing so again and again, I will not tell them that they can’t. I will simply say that *I* don’t believe in generalizing, well, at least not in general. (It’s okay to laugh; that was supposed to funny.) Because sometimes generalizations are valuable and necessary. Want a few examples? EVERY human being has a right to dignity and self-determination to whatever degree possible. EVERY autistic person has a right to the presumption of competence as it relates to believing in their ability to learn. EVERY autistic person has the right to speak about autism (in their own way) and be heard.
Do I think that every autistic person is always right? Um, no. They’re, ya know, people, and people have this propensity to, well, not always be right. Or to say things that they really, really mean right now that may, with more life experience turn out to be abhorrent to them later. Need examples? Read anything I wrote in 2008. you’ll find plenty of material. So, like all flavors of people, I agree with some of them sometimes, a few almost all the time and some of them almost none of the time. I’m a person. They’re people. That’s how it works. But …
Yeah, there’s another but.
They are people who live life through a lens that is different from mine. They have a unique perspective on autism because, like my daughter, and I’ll say this slowly just to make sure it’s clear … They … Are … Autistic. And while some of them may be autistic in [what looks to me like] a very, very different way than my daughter, there are aspects of their experience that will be far more similar to hers than my own. That matters.
A young woman with Aspergers’ once explained it to me thusly (and I hope she’ll forgive a very sloppy attempt to paraphrase): Let’s say I’m a duck and a nonspeaking, severely autistic child is a goose. I’m not claiming that I’m a goose or that I know exactly how it feels to be a goose, but I do know how it feels to be a bird. I know, wow, right?
So let’s fast-forward fifteen years. God-willing, Brooke is in a place where she can share her own experiences if she so chooses. For this example, we’ll assume that she chooses to do so, though of course that will be entirely up to her. A mother blogger is writing about something or other .. how she sees the world and what she thinks is important for other parents of autistic kids to know and blah blah blah. Whatever it is, it resonates enough with Brooke that she takes a risk. She dares to put herself and who she is and what matters to her, on a very personal level, out there and she says, “Hmm, well, yeah, but …. THIS is what I think is important to people like me. And THIS is what I think is a better way to keep us safe. And THIS is how I’d like to ask you to look at it.”
What do I hope to God that mama blogger will do?
I hope she will listen. I hope that she will say, “Hmm, perhaps that wouldn’t be the way that I would have said it or thought it or, heck, thought about it, but yes. That. Yes.” I would hope to God that that mama would say to my girl, “Yes. This. Thank you,” and NOT, “Yeah, well, I hear you, but let me qualify what you’ve said to make it more palatable to my other readers and /or to make it jive a little better with my own philosophy.”
So yes, you might catch me playing favorites. And while Diary will always be a safe place for constructive disagreement and respectful discourse, I will go out of my way to ensure that autistic people feel comfortable here and that their perspectives are heard and respected first. Because I desperately want them to be part of this conversation. Because we NEED them to be part of the conversation. Because they DESERVE to be part of a conversation about what life is like for them and others who experience the world in similar ways, whether they be geese, ducks, penguins or peacocks.
And because the only way that I can ask that mama blogger to listen to my girl in fifteen years … is to do it myself today.