Social networking must be a godsend to support-group people.
I’m not a support-group person. I don’t belong to any gathering of autism parents. I have very limited “community” when it comes to dealing with Martin’s issues. Social networking thus far has accomplished approximately nothing to assist with his recovery.
Instead—and I’ll admit that this is my own fault, as I seem wholly unable just to shut the darn Facebook off—what social networking does, mostly, is make me feel bad.
Don’t get me wrong. I love to read friends’ posts about their children doing sweet, standard kid stuff. Check out Billy’s first day of kindergarten! Sadie scored a soccer goal! Maria is nervous for the sixth-grade dance! Nothing threatening there.
What I dread are the conscientiously self-effacing triumphs of the über-mom. She’s usually a figure from my distant history whom I know today only on-line. A mom whose fashionable kids have highfalutin names, speak in clever quips, and misbehave only in adorable ways. A mom who prepares elaborate meals not because a recovery regimen demands it, but because once her little Aristotle discovered wasabi-infused ginger puree over sashimi skewers and pea cakes, she just had to make them weekly. A mom with perfect hair who doesn’t have to deal. With. Autism. (This is an amalgam. The über-mom is not one. She’s many. And she’s all over my Facebook page.)
I don’t know why posts about perfect kids bother me so much. Resentment? Bitterness? Deep down I know that if über-mom’s life were really so great, she wouldn’t be spending so much time on Facebook posting about how great life is. But when I’m worried about Martin, I don’t live deep down. I’m on the surface, where every wunderkind update feels like a dig against me and mine.
Before Martin’s diagnosis, I had two big experiences, one good and one bad, using a social network to address a child-rearing issue. The good experience arose in the morass of Martin’s early sleeping trouble. Adrian was away on business. At 9:30 pm I had just got Martin back to sleep for the third time. In frustration I signed onto Facebook and posted what was happening. Within half an hour, at least a dozen other parents (in this case, actual friends, people I know, not just disembodied Facebook presences from past life) responded with empathy, common experiences, and possible solutions. Already by the time Martin woke again, around 10:20 pm, I was feeling more confident, and accompanied by my misery’s company.
The bad experience arose in the context of a local “mothers’ group” I joined when Martin was born. This group met from time to time for coffee or to go walking, which I had done once or twice. (It felt awkward trying to become friends with other women based only on the coincidence of giving birth during the same season.) The group’s main function was on-line communication, stuff like babysitter wages and mommy-and-me classes. Around the time that our kids were moving to solid foods, I posted an inquiry about whether the group included any other vegan or vegetarian families. If so, I said, I’d like to get together to talk about nutrition and menus, and maybe to let the kids play so Martin wouldn’t think he was the only vegetarian in town. (I have vegetarian friends, but none with children who live in New York City.) The group’s moderator responded immediately and vehemently. She demanded to know why I was trying to split the mothers’ group along dietary lines. Did I think I was better than mothers who let their children eat meat? Did I have a problem with her giving her son chicken? What was next—would I be letting Martin play only with children whose parents are Democrats? I removed my post, befuddled, wondering how I’d managed to provoke such a reaction, and also why everyone assumes vegetarians are Democrats.
If I could get a cyber-beating for trying to connect with vegetarians, heaven only knows the peril of raising ASD recovery in a social-networking context. After seven weeks of blogging, already I can identify myriad ideas of mine that will cause some folks to bristle. Let’s start with my basic premise: that recovery from autism is possible. On the Twitter feed associated with this blog (@findingmykid), I follow at least one account with precisely the opposite take: that biomedical treatment of autism is “quackery.” And frankly, I have respect for that position. There are days when I myself just can’t believe that the mainstream medical community is suppressing the means to recovery from a condition that affects one in every 70 American boys. By now I’ve talked to enough parents who recovered their children to keep me going, but barely. (Quack away, my friends—it’s just enough to keep the skepticism at bay.)
So anyway, I’m not social networking. I’m blogging. The site is open for comments (I’ll “approve” any comment that is neither spam nor profanity-laced), and I expect to receive some that express disagreement. I hope to, even; that’s what makes a forum. Still, blogging feels less vulnerable than social networking. Maybe it’s because knowing that I’m expressing controversial views prepares me for backlash. Maybe it’s because I’m anonymous. Maybe it’s just because the blog is mine, as if I’m in control.
As if I’m in control of anything at all.