inviting joy back into the conversation

It never fails– I open my computer and there is another story about an autistic child harmed, or killed, at his or her mother’s hands.

There is a big conversation that needs to happen around this. Huge.

Yes, part of the conversation is about family and mental health support, of course… but it’s really about the rest of us.

Why?

We as a society are talking about autism. And we have a lot to say about it. Almost always negative things.

Yes, autism comes with challenges. Big ones, sometimes huge ones.

It can come with co-morbid diagnoses: seizure disorders, sleep disorders, anxiety disorders, OCD, rage, sensory overload.

It can be very, VERY hard on parents. I’m not going to shy away from saying that. When you have two people with vastly different neurologies who are trying, all day every day, to understand each other and love each other and just functionally coexist, you are both going to be exhausted a lot of the time. (See also: all the stuff I listed above. Raising a child with those conditions is also hard.) This is not the child’s fault, it just is what it is, but BECAUSE it is, we need to acknowledge it.

But autism is not all fear and sadness and it is not a death sentence.

People who do not speak can still communicate.

People who do not make eye contact are still listening– and hearing when you think they’re not listening.

People who move their bodies in different ways are not always expressing an emotion that most closely matches how we are feeling when we move our bodies in that way. (Flapping and fidgeting does not always mean nervous!)

People who use their voices in different ways are not always expressing an emotion that most closely matches how we are feeling when we use our voices in that way. (Yelling does not always mean distress!)

Autism is people, and people are a lot of things. People contain fear and sadness and anger and frustration, and they also contain joy and love.

If we only talk about the scary parts, it’s going to be that much easier for parents who, for whatever reason (because really, it’s hard to process the reasons but whatever they are, they exist) are vaulting themselves straight over the line of acceptable parenting decisions, past survival mode, and into unthinkable territory– and a lot of it has to do with the pervasive culture of  abject hopelessness surrounding the autism world when too many people are somberly looking in from the outside and reporting on their fears. We lock joy out of the conversation and it needs to be invited back in.

Since I’m pretty damn tired of having my brain stuck on trying to process how a mother can throw her son off a bridge and I just don’t want to do it right now, I’m going to present this video of Hammy instead. She discovered a piece of furniture with a mirror backing that is exactly the right size for her to see her whole body when she bends forward a bit, and she loves it.

So if you’re also tired of picturing a small child thrown off a bridge by his mother tonight, I invite you to come instead watch two minutes of Ham being fully Ham. She’s delightful, I think you’ll agree, and I wouldn’t want her any other way. (And of course the same goes for her sister, who is, in this video, watching Super Why in the kitchen with her Nana.)

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