The last few weeks have left me firmly on middle ground, a sort of no-man’s land between Israel and Palestine. Except it’s not politics or religion that has me in this place. It’s my very own group of autism parents and advocates.
I’m caught between my firm belief in the freedom of speech and expression, and equally firm belief in promoting autism awareness and acceptance in a positive way.
I’m caught between parents in terrible pain, expressing their pain and sorrow, and parents that say that expressing that pain in certain ways is harmful to others.
I’m stuck in the middle of parents that are angry at being judged by how they express themselves, and parents and advocates that are angry because they feel devalued.
It occurs to me that we are all at different stages on this journey, but it’s a journey that we share. I empathize with the pain of a parent that “hates” the complications that autism has caused for her child. Because she’s a mom, and she doesn’t want her child to suffer or feel pain, and she sees autism as the “thing” that causes that pain. And I certainly empathize with a person with autism who, despite or because of autism, is the valuable human being they are, and is sensitive to the negativity surrounding autism.
So where do we go from here?
I’m unwilling to tell someone how they should feel, what they should think, or in what way they are allowed to express themselves. I’m not the thought police, and I’d rail to the death against that kind of dystopian future.
Maybe…maybe as advocates for inclusion and integration, for awareness and understanding we could change the way in which we respond? Maybe when we see a parent express “hate” in regards to autism, we can see that they are struggling, hurting, and may be in a very dark and lonely place at that moment. Perhaps we could respond with compassion, an offer of help, guidance, or friendship. Maybe we could say “your words seemed very strong, is there something I can do to help, or at least offer a shoulder to lean on?”
And maybe as frustrated, overwhelmed parents, when someone with autism says that our choice of words has hurt them, we can acknowledge that and at least ask how we can word it differently to make it less offensive. Maybe the power and pain of saying “I hate autism” would be completely diffused by saying “I hate the way autism affects our family”.
We fight tirelessly against having our kids judged unfairly because of their autism, yet we swiftly and harshly judge one another.
And how’s that working out for Israel and Palestine?