As you can (ahem!) probably tell, this blog doesn’t get much editing. As to most entries, I draft, read through once, add any links or photos, and post, sans quality check.
Occasionally, however, I request a second opinion before I post, because I’m writing about a friend or relative and want him/her to have the story before the world does, or in order to check whether my words will convey what I want them to. In the entry titled “For Diana,” I wrote to a fellow ASD parent who has commented thoughtfully on my blog over the past two years. The topic of “For Diana” was our disagreement about approaches to treating autism. In that instance, I asked Adrian to read the draft before I posted. I was looking for a gut-check: Was I respectful toward Diana’s position? Did I address her comments without extraneous points? Did I acknowledge my own biases? Adrian did a commendable job. He pointed out one paragraph where my words sounded “snide” (I edited that) and suggested one comment to which I could add more depth (I tried).
And then, to my surprise, he started to add his own thoughts to what I had written. Adrian listens, and responds, when I talk about Martin’s challenges, treatment, and achievements. The “big decisions”—should we try chelation? is HBOT worth the investment? where should we live? where should Martin go to school?—we make together, based on information I assemble for Adrian to review. Beyond those discussions, Adrian rarely volunteers his thoughts about autism, or recovery. Autism recovery is my department. Adrian’s departments are vacation planning, opera excursions, history lessons, and the family economy. Adrian enjoys a probative biography of Nixon; my desk is littered with articles about MTFR mutation. Indeed, if we decide to tell a friend or family member that Martin has autism (we’re guarded, in that regard), I am the one who sits the initiate down for that talk, without Adrian present.
Yet here he was, freely telling me why he thought Diana’s opinion was mistaken. His statements were original, and different, and not echoes of mine.
“You should write that down for my blog,” I said when Adrian finished. “Really. It would mean a lot to add your voice to Martin’s story as it evolves. Otherwise it’s always just me, speaking for both of us.”
“Maybe,” Adrian said. “I guess I could think about it.”
We left the topic at that. I didn’t want to push Adrian. In addition to his autism reluctance, Adrian doesn’t enjoy writing in English, other than technical finance and legal documents. English is not Adrian’s first language, or even his second, and despite his thorough fluency (better grammar than most native speakers, I tell him!), he’s never seemed to gain full confidence.
A month passed. And then almost another month. And then Adrian sent me an email with no re: line and no content other than an attachment titled “martin.docx.”
Here is what he wrote:
I am Martin’s father. My wife, Maria, asked me to write a note for her blog on Martin. The request was made in response to a reader advocating that our approach to Martin’s autism is not worth pursuing. The commentator argued, thoughtfully and politely, that trying to recover a child from autism is tantamount to wanting to “change” the child, while in fact the child was just fine but different. Being “different” would not merit trying to change the child, and could at some point be perceived by the child as a rejection of what he or she is. “I don’t want to return my son to full neurotypicality because I don’t see him as having been in a certain place and then having regressed or changed,” wrote the commentator. “I don’t understand how the language and idea of ‘cure’ and ‘recovery’ is consistent with teaching our kids to love and accept themselves as they are.”
The commentator is not alone. Many people in the unwilling community bound by autism argue that there is nothing that requires addressing or treating autism. An autistic person is perfectly healthy and happy, just not neurotypical. It is up to us to accept autistic persons as they are.
Maria and I have a very different attitude towards autism.
To me, autism is a deeply uncomfortable topic. To my wife, it is a topic in which she has simply become an expert. I view autism as a topic that occupies too much space in our lives. Maria sees it more like an important, unavoidable part of our lives. I have been shaken by the existence of autism in our family. She has decided to confront it.
But we both share a commitment to doing everything we reasonably can to bring our son back to neurotypicality.
From my standpoint, this is not about accepting or rejecting one’s child. This has little to do with my personal relationship with my child. This is about the responsibility of a parent to prepare his or her child to live in the actual world.
One of the most critical things a parent has to do is to raise a human being who can, to the greatest extent possible, fend for himself in the real world. My job as a father is not only to love and nurture my child—and, as a result, to be accepting of him—but to prepare him for the world in which he will have to live. Martin will have to live in a world that I will not always be able to shape in a way that works best for him. I may or may not be able to help him and be there for him along the way, and there will certainly be a time when I am no longer going to be able to be there for him at all.
If autism does one thing, it makes a parent realize the thousands of social cues and communication skills that create a successful social interaction.
Martin, for example, insists on yelling “Go away!” to any person who wants to assist him if he happens to be dealing with something by himself. Even among expert professionals (like his teachers), a curt, impolite “Go away!” triggers a shock reaction. Martin is still prone to asking inappropriate questions (“Is that your husband?”, “What year were you born?”, “When did you get into your mommy’s belly?”) of any person he just happens to meet.
But it is not only this kind of obvious behavior that needs to be addressed; it is the more subtle rules of social interaction and communication that make people successful. Understanding, especially what is not being communicated verbally. Listening, to the nuanced messages that adults use all the time. Acting with emotional intelligence. Differencing when one is being attacked or mocked from when one is just being made fun of. Properly interacting with people in positions of superiority or inferiority, and with peers. All of these are the gifts of neurotypicality and of a good and loving education.
Looking at Martin, I see a child who is entitled to be raised in a way that maximizes his ability to navigate the world. That is my responsibility.
There you have it, readers. Adrian is real. He speaks. And you and I, together, have just learned more about his position on recovering Martin than I’ve known in four years—one more way in which keeping this blog has blessed my life.
Adrian messing around, with his niece and Martin on the back.