I’ve never posted anything like this on here before, but this has been so heavy on my heart for a long time.
Stop calling my son autistic.
His name is Joshua. He is a tall, handsome, smart, funny, creative young man. Why do people think that they need to label him? I hate labels. You would never introduce someone and say:
- This is my friend. She’s poor.
- This is my brother. He’s gay.
- This is my sister. She’s a single mom.
- This is my cousin. He’s Hispanic.
- This is my aunt. She’s ‘normal’.
Why do people think they need to label themselves or their children because of a disability? (And side note: I hate the word disability. Autism doesn’t hold us back. We do things a little differently sometimes, but we sure are not held back!)
We have been in the waiting room at the doctor before and a child will start pacing back and forth across the room. Their mother will look at me and say “Sorry, he has Autism.” as she then turns to her child to come sit down and get out of the way.
Listen, you don’t have to apologize to me. You don’t have to justify your child by explaining to me that he is different. I get it. But even if I didn’t. You don’t need to. I know that our culture judges parents, particularly mothers relentlessly. But that’s a whole different rant for a different post.
And if you do know my son has Autism, here are a few things to make sure you never, ever do.
- Don’t tell us, “Oh, he doesn’t look like he has Autism.” “You can barely tell he is autistic.”
- Don’t talk louder…or slower. Don’t change your vocabulary to make it ‘simpler’. (Honestly, my child is probably smarter than you and I combined.)
- Don’t compare him to your neighbor’s sister’s second cousin who has a child who is on the spectrum.
- You don’t need to stare.
- When you hear him speak or if you hear me talking about him don’t say “Wow. His autism makes him so smart!” Why can’t he be smart just because he’s smart? Why are you still differentiating him? Is he all of a sudden more or less smart? No. Did his autism make him smart? No. He’s smart because of himself. He reads constantly. He asks millions of what if questions. He builds things. He is smart because he has figured things out. He did that. Not his autism.
- This should go without saying, but we are not here for you to make yourself feel better. We are not here for you to pity, baby or use as a service project.
- And so help me if you think it is appropriate to pull out your phone and record a video. “Aww look. He’s able to be in the choir.” “Look at that autistic boy at the concert.” “This autistic man has a job.” “How sweet. That autistic girl went to prom.” Gee. Who would have ever thought. People with autism are human beings who like to do the same things that everyone else likes to do. They are people who are able to do everyday things when people stop assuming and give them the chance; when they stop defining them by their disability. Really, it’s the world who is doing the disabling.
While I appreciate the fact that more people are aware about things like Autism, they aren’t understanding it sometimes. Just because someone has Autism doesn’t mean you have to treat them like they have Autism. Unfortunately, most people that we have experienced in this journey fall into two categories: they are jerks. Or they try. Very seldom do we meet people who don’t look at the disability and just see the person. To those of you that do, thank you. Please know that you are so special to us.
We appreciate those who try, we really do! But here is a fact for you to keep in mind. Severe depression in adolescence with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) is 37% compared to 5% of ‘normal’ adolescence. Some studies reveal that those numbers of severely depressed actually may be as high as 50%. But not just depression, teens with ASD and depression are more apt to have suicidal thoughts. And even scarier - ASD individuals are 40-50% more likely to attempt suicide than depressed individuals without Autism. It’s actually a silent epidemic. And one that needs to be talked about - without stigma.
Junior high was rough for us. Junior high is rough for everyone. But for us it wasn’t just the bullies who were bringing Joshua down. It was also the people that were trying. Everyday, children and teachers alike made him feel inadequate and like he couldn’t do anything that ‘normal’ children could do. And they did it with the best of intentions. This isn’t a post to make them feel bad or to blame them by any means. But instead, to bring awareness.
We are not ashamed by Joshua’s Autism. We embrace it. I tell him that his Autism makes it impossible to be normal. Think about it. If someone tells you “Wow. You are so normal.” It’s not a positive thing. Instead, we strive to be told we are things like talented, smart, creative. Everyone else is working to get out of the ‘normal box’. Joshua’s mind lets him surpass the normal box and go on to extraordinary. We have nothing to be ashamed about. Autism does not define us. Autism does not make us. Autism is nothing but a label.
You don’t find me wearing the Autism Mom t-shirt not because I’m embarrassed. But because to me, it doesn’t matter. I am work so hard to not let my son be labeled by others and for him not to label himself. So for us, I can’t label him. He’s not my autistic son. He’s simply my son. And I love him.
We can all be friends.
We are all the same.
We are not defined by labels.
So please, stop labeling my child. He is not an autistic child. He is just a child.