This is something I wish I didn’t have to discuss on this blog, especially so soon, but it’s something that I feel needs to be talked about. I’ve spent countless hours thinking about how I’d like to broach the subject, as I want more than anything to do it justice, but I’m afraid the words elude me. So, I guess we’ll just dive in.
Recently, I came across a video by a YouTuber by the name of Mandy Harker entitled “Autism is a Gift – The Hardest Conversation I’ve ever had about Autism,” which I have embedded below.
In this video, Harker recounts a conversation she had with a little boy in her son’s class, who, according to her, “struggles with many of the same things as [her] youngest, who has autism spectrum disorder.” The boy begins by asking a series of questions about her son and his struggles in school, before the conversation takes an unexpected – and heartbreaking – turn.
“And suddenly he said, just so innocently – just as a comment, almost. He was like, ‘Do you ever wish that Clyde wasn’t your son?’ And my immediate response was, ‘Of course not! I love my son so much; he’s one of my most favorite people.’ And this kid is just so astounded… Then he said this, ‘Because my mom sometimes says she wishes I wasn’t her son.’ And my heart wept in my chest.”
Hearing this, my heart also weeps for that little boy, as I know how much those words can hurt: I myself am a survivor of physical and emotional abuse. As such, I am all too aware of the pain and damage that language like this can inflict on a child, especially one with a disability. Unfortunately, my experience also highlights the fact that this might not be as uncommon as one would think. Too often, children with disabilities are thought of and treated as burdens on their family and communities, an idea that causes real and lasting harm – yet one that many claim continues to be perpetuated by the mainstream media.
The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN), an organization that is run by and for autistic people, has spoken out against this apparent trend numerous times, particularly in regards to its relationship to filicide. The organization argues that the narrative that disabled people are burdens whose lives are not worth living has long-reaching effects, and can even lead people to attempt to justify the murder of disabled individuals by their caregivers. In response, the Disability Community Day of Mourning was launched in remembrance of victims of the crime. As ASAN’s website explains:
“Every year on March 1st, the disability community gathers across the nation to remember disabled victims of filicide–disabled people murdered by their family members or caregivers… The media portrays these murders as justifiable and inevitable due to the ‘burden’ of having a disabled person in the family. If the parent stands trial, they are given sympathy and comparatively lighter sentences, if they are sentenced at all. The victims are disregarded, blamed for their own murder at the hands of the person they should have been able to trust the most, and ultimately forgotten. And then the cycle repeats.”
As a survivor of abuse, I will say that this is a cause that is near and dear to my heart. However, I acknowledge that this is in no way representative of all parents of autistic children, as it is clearly not in Harker’s case. In fact, many parents go out of their way to hide their daily struggles from their children in order to give them the best life possible, and I applaud them for that; I truly believe that the world needs more loving, dedicated parents like them. But unfortunately, sad stories like this do exist and must be talked about. After all, the emotional and psychological impact of feeling unwanted is tremendous, even if it does not result in death.
Although I would say it’s fairly common to go through a “grieving” period after learning of a child’s diagnosis, it is important that parents are able to work through their grief and get themselves to a place where they can embrace their children for who they are, autism and all. Parents cannot always control what they feel, but they can ultimately choose how to respond.
This is not to diminish the hardships faced by both autistic children and their parents, of course. As Harker acknowledges herself, autism comes with some “really hard challenges,” something I have also experienced being autistic myself. I acknowledge that parenting an autistic child can be draining for both the parent and the child, and that both parties will get burnt out and have bad days – and certainly, both deserve to have support through those hard days. But are bad days ever an excuse for wishing your child away?
I know that some parents might wish their child’s autism away, something I don’t feel I can comment on given how wide the autism spectrum is. In fact, I occasionally wish my own autism away. I do believe that autism in all its various forms is a disability, and I know that not everyone (including other autistic people) will consider it a gift – an opinion that I can certainly respect. But even on my bad days, I know that, for me personally, autism has enriched my life in unimaginable ways and that I would not be the person I am today without it, much like Harker states that she would not be half the woman she is today without her children:
“I can with total honesty that my children are a gift… I can’t even imagine my life if my boys weren’t my sons, if my children weren’t my children. It was just so heartbreaking to think that any child would feel unwanted or unloved because of their disability.”
I am incredibly happy to hear Harker say these words, and I wish with all my heart that all autistic children could have a mother like her. This video filled me with great sadness, but also great hope in knowing that there are people out there who cherish their children as much as she does.
In my personal experience, the scars left by abuse are much more painful and longer lasting than those left by autism. Everyone will feel differently about this, of course, and some people may agree while others do not. But regardless of which side of the autism debate you happen to fall on, I think we can all agree that children like that little boy – children like me – don’t deserve to go through life feeling unloved.
If you are a parent who is struggling, I encourage you to reach out for professional help and get the support that both you and your child deserve. It’s okay to feel helpless and overwhelmed, but these feelings do not have to rule your life or affect your relationship with your child. You can get the help you need to help both you and your child live happy, healthy, and full lives.