Sometimes I feel like the odd mother out in the fact that I’m not interested in a “cure” for my daughter’s Autism. That’s not entirely accurate because I don’t really believe a cure exists … not after the fact and not preemptively… because I think such a cure would change an integral part of who she is. I also don’t believe that anything I did caused her Autism.
I have the luxury of saying that I don’t want a cure because although our road is not easy, she’s still high functioning and we are lucky in that respect.
It should come as no surprise that when I heard about another mother to a child with Autism who encouraged her child and “discipline” him by telling him that other children wouldn’t do it that way and only praised him when he did it “the way other kids would (supposedly) do it” it simultaneously broke my heart and angered me. Especially when her next comment was that her praise is what lit his face up. She wants to attempt to correct as many things as possible this way, I guess before her luck runs out and he decides that he doesn’t care as much about conformity and cares more about gaining her approval. This was all after explaining to him, after he begged repeatedly for explanations, how and why he was different from his classmates.
“It’s okay to be different… it really is!” seems hollow when the goal is to get the child to learn to conform. The goal isn’t conformity. It’s “learning to cope and navigate in a world where the majority of people have brains that are wired differently.”
That doesn’t mean that you can’t approach someone with neurological differences that there are right and wrong behaviors. There are definitely lines to be drawn with right and wrong behaviors. We don’t use our bodies to harm other people or other living things. We don’t use verbal violence against other people. We don’t do things to try to intimidate other people in order to get our way. We wait our turn. We use our manners as best we can. We try our best. We don’t hurt people’s feelings on purpose. We follow the rules.
But the most important things that lead to these lessons other than reinforcement and repetition up the wazoo is educating her, encouraging her, and teaching her how to best use her assets and strengths, and identify what she’s good at is essential. Teaching her to communicate appropriately, but also in a way that she’s comfortable with, is essential. Being patient and recognizing that this takes years, many more than for neuro-typical people, to accomplish. Then you have the nuanced social stuff which is a lot more difficult, but still necessary. Manners, being on time, being groomed, learning body language and facial expressions and tone of voice. That can take a lifetime and there are plenty of typical people who don’t “get it” let alone master it.
It’s important to recognize where conformity is a necessity. There are some pretty big ones. Safety issues, laws, picking your nose in public, being respectful, and other unmentionables or else I’ll get the spambots leaving me rude comments I’ll have to sift through.
So back on topic. When this mom praised her little boy, that was really all he wanted. That was his motivation and his happiness. Just like any other child, this little boy with Autism just wanted to make his mommy happy and be reassured that even though he’s different he’s still loved and likeable. But instead, he got reinforcement that he needs to change who he is and conform to be better. He needs to behave like the “good kids” to be better and get his mother’s approval.
I know that she didn’t and doesn’t see it that way at all, and maybe I’m over thinking this. I didn’t say a word to her at all about it because she took such joy in the fact that he had gained such a wonderful level of self-awareness and was able to modify his behavior willingly. I have to agree that that’s quite a feat. But to maintain that daily, hour in and hour out, day in and day out, is stressful. I don’t question her love or loyalty to him at all. Only the implications of the interactions.