It's becoming a bigger and bigger issue: how does society bend to work with kids with autism? With the number of kids on the spectrum growing every year, it's high time society get on board with accommodating them, right? Of course, but now we've got a problem. What happens when parents decide they're going to hide their child's autism from society?
Then what? How does society get on board? And why would a mom even want to hide it?
According to one mother who shared her story on the CafeMom boards recently (she chose to remain anonymous), only her best friend and sister know that her son has autism. As for everyone else:
I don't feel the need to and I don't like him to be treated differently or pitied.
It's hard to argue with that, especially as a mom of a neurotypical child. I wouldn't want my daughter to be treated differently from other kids, and I certainly don't want her to be pitied for who she is. I can't imagine how much harder it must be for parents of kids on the spectrum.
But as tempting as this mom's decision might be, she's doing a real disservice to her child.
Why? Let's consider the strides being made toward autism awareness in America. Just this past weekend writer and mom of a son with autism Amy Fisher Lutz weighed in on the debate over how to share public spaces with people on the spectrum.
"Ideally, our public spaces should accommodate everyone," Fisher Lutz said. That means no one should expect her son, Jonah, to stay home simply because he doesn't act "normal" in public, but she also bears a responsibility to try to take him to movies that aren't as crowded or to more family-friendly venues.
But Fisher Lutz made a point to note incredible kindnesses that have made her family's lives easier from people who have gotten on board.
Is that treating them differently? Perhaps. But it's also a sign of increased understanding that having autism does make kids different. Not bad. Just different.
Different is OK! But different does come with needs. It means kids who are on the spectrum, or heck, kids with any special need, require, well, different treatment sometimes. And unless people know to provide said treatment, they can't be expected to step up.
Here, let me give you a real life example. A father I know volunteered to coach his daughter's soccer team. The kids on the team were all randomly assigned, so he didn't know many of them or their parents. One little girl showed up on the first day of practice, and he could tell she was different, but the sign-up form didn't indicate any special need, nor did her parents provide him with any background.
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He decided he'd treat her just like the other kids and sent her out on the field to practice. But unlike the other kids, she became winded within minutes, her face beet red. He noted other issues as the season progressed, many of them cognitive, but the parents never approached, and because they'd drop her off at practice and leave immediately, he wasn't able to approach them.
It was only through word of mouth in the community that he was able to ascertain her various health and mental issues.
Those parents put him in a rough position. Perhaps they wanted their little girl treated "normally," but at what cost?
The coach lamented to me once that he would have liked some more information simply so he could better meet her needs. He wanted to do better for the child, but he wasn't armed with the information to do so.
Did he do the best he could? Absolutely. But he worried that it wasn't enough.
This is the risk in hiding a child's autism.
You don't allow people who will work with your kid to do so. You sell society short.
And frankly, you sell your own child short. Kids with autism need to hear from their parents that it's OK to be different, not that it's something that needs to be hidden.
I don't pretend to know what it's like to parent a kid on the spectrum, but I am a mom. And I want my daughter to embrace everything about herself -- different or not. That's her right as a human being, and that same right extends to kids with autism.
Would you hide your child's autism from the world?
Image via BLW Photography/Flickr