Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Please try to understand.

In an ideal world, this post is one that can be read by teachers or family members, people who try to understand what our children are going through, but somehow miss the mark.
I'm not aiming for offensiveness here, but I would hazard a guess that most parents of autistic children will have very few people around them who truly get it, and they are probably the ones who also live with autism in one way or another.

Most people know what autism is, they've read an article, perhaps something shared on Facebook, or they know someone with autism, a second aunty twice removed, or their next door neighbour's cousin's son. All opinions on autism are then based on small snapshots of what they know.

But as any autistic person (or their carer) knows, when you've met one autistic person, you've met one autistic person. You simply cannot make assumptions about everyone else within the autistic community, just like you can't make assumptions about all neurotypical people, it just doesn't work.

Many people's understanding of ASD are akin to Delboy's understanding of French. You might know a few words, but that doesn't make you fluent. Mange tout.

I've noticed that when I try to explain PDA boy's difficulties, or family life, people nod along and say they understand. At school we are told exactly what we want to hear. Time and time again though it's clear that people are still going by their preconceptions to make judgements.

So I have an idea.

If someone is trying to explain something about their child to you, listen. Really listen. Forget all your perceived thoughts on that individual child, pretend the child is a foreign language that is new to you. You need to listen to hear what is being said, or you may miss vital parts. It's a given that the people who know a child best are their parents, so who better to teach about them.

When my child is anxious in school, the signs he shows may be the same as another child's general oikishness, but reading it as such puts my child in a damaging situation - he can no longer cope. Assuming he is the same as his peers and disciplining as such leads to extremely challenging behaviour. You need to see his behaviour through an anxious, PDA boy lens in order to spot what's going on, and I believe in you, you can do this, but you need to drop all the comparisons.

If Sam, sitting over there at the back of the classroom, understands that flicking his fingers is wrong and distracting, please understand that for another child, flicking their fingers is a coping mechanism, enabling them to remain calmly seated in the room. If Grace can understand what you mean with a well-honed death-stare, please don't assume that this is the same for all children, and definitely don't punish a child for not understanding vague gestures and ambiguous comments.

If you have a relationship with a child, whether it is teacher/pupil or aunt/niece or whatever, you owe it to everyone around to give the child a chance to shine in their own way, and the best way to do this is to allow yourself to accept them for who they are and learn who they are, and see for yourself that they are good enough as they are.

The risk of not learning the child is that you may find them frustrating, naughty, unco-operative, but these are merely symptoms of a bigger root cause, one that is preventable by knowing the child and treating them in a way that respects their neurology.

Of course I expect a cry of "But teachers have twenty nine other children to teach" and I agree, they do, but in PDA boy's case, a little bit of understanding, a few more warnings instead of strict adherence to petty rules, would mean less time focusing solely on him as he messes around, would mean fewer pupils (because I can't believe PDA boy is the only one in school struggling like this) in detention each night, I do wonder if teachers would save time and energy by understanding their autistic pupils better, and family members might have more quality time with their autistic nieces, nephews or grandchildren, instead of finding them so difficult in comparison with their NT family members.