“I’m sure she’ll grow out of it.”
These words. Again.
This time they came from a mum at the school gates asking how Polly is getting on. Her daughter was in Polly’s class, and I’m sure that she meant well. I also know that it’s not her fault that she’s uneducated on the whys and wherefores of high functioning autistic children. You wouldn’t be unless you had to be right?
It still stings though.
Especially the morning after a(nother) rough night. I didn’t react, I never do. There would be little point in me lecturing this woman on choosing her words more carefully, because I’m almost certain it would fall on deaf ears.
The conversation has got me thinking about how confusing high functioning autistic children must be to a complete outsider. There are so many other children in the same situation as Polly. Kids who appear ‘normal’ to the naked eye, which means they are treated exactly the same as the others. They are not the same though, and they never will be.
Here are some of the things that I’ve learnt through having a high functioning autistic child
Polly absolutely, categorically, will not ‘grow out’ of her autism. It’s not the same as your son’s milk intolerance, or your nephew’s asthma. Autism is not a disease to be cured. It’s a neurological disorder which means that Polly’s brain is wired differently to yours and mine. She is not less, she is different.
For more information on what autism is, check out The National Autistic Society. They do amazing work, and provide a wealth of knowledge.
Just as no two children are the same, no two autistic children are the same. End of. I can almost guarantee that telling the mother of an autistic child that you ‘know all about autism’ because you met a kid once who was autistic will not go down well. You might think that you’re offering comfort, but this is not the way to do it. If you’re interested in offering genuine comfort simply ask how the child is, and listen to the response. Less words can often mean more.
The child you see is probably a different kid to the one at home. This can be the trickiest thing to understand from an outside perspective. Even other members of the family can find it hard to believe, because whenever they see my daughter she’s all smiles. Believe me, this is not the way she rolls at home as standard.
High functioning autistic children are exceptionally good at masking their autism. They put so much effort into appearing ‘normal’ and fitting in, that they wander around in a perpetual state of overwhelm. Which in turn leads to massive meltdowns at home, where they feel safe enough to vent their frustrations.
We go through a multitude of emotions every single day. While the over zealous happiness is a beautiful thing to witness, the-zero-to-one-hundred-in-three-seconds-anger can test the entire family. The meltdowns can leave us all in a state of shock. The best we can do as autism parents is try our best to figure out what is triggering the meltdowns. That way we can sometimes avert them, or at least know they are on the way, and prepare ourselves for them.
Lets talk about the hardest thing. All any parent wants is for their kids to be happy, and it is heartbreaking watching them be sad. Polly’s sadness has given me an insightful window into her world though. From where I’m standing it looks like a confusing, often scary place for a seven year old girl. It’s made me realise more than ever that she needs kindness and love to be bestowed upon her from all directions.
The notion that children will ‘grow out’ of their autism, or can be cured of it, is toxic. And it needs to stop.