Like every person on this planet, I am a multi-faceted person. I have numerous facets to my identity, but for some reason, there are two facets to my identity that society doesn’t seem to want to believe can be parts of the same person.
I am a parent, and I am Autistic. What’s more, I am a parent of an Autistic child. So, combined, I am an Autistic parent of an Autistic child.
That should not be that unusual.
I know it’s not that unusual because many of my Autistic friends are also parents. Some of those friends are parents to Autistic children, some have children who are neurotypical, and some have children who are not autistic but have other forms of neurodivergence.
I could repeat that paragraph above and replace ‘Autistic friends’ with ‘neurotypical friends’ or ‘neurodivergent friends.’
None of that should be surprising or confusing to people, but it seems to be.
It seems that I can either be a parent of an Autistic child, or I can be Autistic, but I can’t be both. Why can’t I be both when I am both?
I bring this up because I have noticed that when I identify myself as Autistic, other parents leap to the conclusion that I can’t possibly know what it is like to live with an Autistic child. When they do that, they generally adopt an incredibly condescending tone and start telling me how truly awful and hard their lives are because I cannot possibly understand what it’s like to “live with autism”*.
Of course, if I identify as a parent of an Autistic child, then other parents of Autistic children don’t treat me as less than them. Instead, they try to commiserate with me by oversharing stories about their “life with autism.”¹ They make horrible, stereotyped generalisations about Autistic people because it never occurs to them that I could be Autistic.
In both scenarios above, parents are demonstrating some incredibly ableist attitudes, and it hurts.
No one should ever assume that an Autistic person cannot be both Autistic and a parent. Autistic children grow up into Autistic adults and do adult things – for some Autistic adults, those adult things include having a child, and for some, it won’t. But don’t make assumptions on what Autistic adults can and can’t do based on your experience of living with an Autistic child who is still developing. Those assumptions can be limiting for your children.
Don’t say “my child will never…” because your child very well might, but you have to set aside your ableist attitudes and assumptions and presume competence. You really should presume competence whenever you encounter an Autistic person, regardless of whether they are an adult or a child, because when you do the opposite, you limit us. When you presume that we’re too incompetent to understand your experiences, or your children are too incompetent to be able to develop into adults who do adult things, we can actually hear you and it hurts. Your children can hear you too.
¹Parents of Autistic children do not actually know what it’s like to live with autism unless they are also Autistic. They do not have a life with autism. They have a life with an Autistic person; they live with an Autistic person. Autism doesn’t live in their house as a separate entity so please stop wording our neurology like it is an entirely separate thing from us.