May 4, 2021
Parents and Their Autistic Children: The Mourning Over A Perceived Normalness
When a parent is welcoming a child into the world, it is a moment of excitement and joy. There is no doubt that in the many month-long wait, time is filled with the parent imagining who and what the child would be like and what they will become. Their favorite colors, foods, dream jobs. When expecting children, a parent can imagine the life that child will have in the following years. In many cases, parents will be blessed with the delivery of a child that could be considered “normal” or neurotypical. While in others, parents will be blessed with a child that has a disability. Unfortunately, some parents may not consider a child with a disability as a blessing. They may not recognize the child as their own. They may mourn the “normal child” that they had felt they were supposed to have.The child that was supposed to go to school, learn to drive, and go off to college. Not that disabled children cannot grow up to do all these things, however there are some who are dependent on the care of others who may be unable to partake in much of the activities that can be perceived as typical to any lifestyle. An example of this challenge is a parent who is coming to the knowledge that their child is autistic. In Sinclair’s article the preconceived notions of burden that are placed on caring for a disabled child morphs the view that parents have toward their autistic child and in turn can affect the child and the support that they may receive from their parents in the long run. This occurs in both the misunderstanding that autism can be cured or removed from the child and that it would be impossible to speak and relate to them.
Previously, I noted that a challenge may present itself once a parent learns that their child is disabled, in this case autistic. With an ableist lens the challenge could be perceived as one that only belongs to the parent when it in fact also resides in the child themselves. Jim Sinclair discussed in their article, “Don’t Mourn for Us” the issues that lie in parents mourning their autistic child and how this belief is rooted in the preconceived notion of burden and loss. Sinclair uses solid statements that expose the heartlessness of a parent that puts how they feel over the child. Viewing this occurrence as a “great tragedy” in their family (Sinclair). Sinclair chastises parents in for their behavior toward their autistic children. Demanding that parents do not mourn for their children. One point that they brought out under their subheading “Autism is not an appendage” was that since autism is a way of being, there is no removing or separating it from an individual. In reference to the parent’s wish for a “normal child,” they revealed the true meaning behind the phrase, “I wish my child did not have autism (Sinclair)” that a parent may say toward their child. They brought out that this is in fact a way of expressing that the parents wished that their autistic child did not exist, and a normal child may take their place. This heartbreaking notion of being unable to love a child because of the difficulty that presents itself in learning and understanding an autistic child is a representation of how an unsupportive parent allows the illusion of burden to build a wall between themselves and their child. All of this over a shattered expectation of normal (Sinclair).
Parent’s may also perceive their children as an “impenetrable wall (Sinclair).” This is certainly not the case. The root of this belief is also found within the expectations that a parent may have already conceived with their child that the language that they would use with a normal child would also be understood as well with an autistic child. However, an autistic child is not going to respond in a manner that is recognized as being a part of that language system (Sinclair). Sinclair highlights that “it takes more work to communicate with someone whose native language isn’t the same as yours (Sinclair).” This illustration further emphasizes that autistic individuals are “foreigners” in every society that they live within (Sinclair). A real effort will need to be made if a parent wants to support their child and better get to know and understand them. They would have to become fluent in their language and translate and make sure that an understanding can be made. Even then Sinclair admonishes that even once this is accomplished there will be no normal parent-child relationship. A whole new construction of normal would be required in order to accept the different. If the new construction is not built Sinclair warns that frustration, resentment, and even hatred can stem from a parent toward their child.
The care of an autistic child is dependent on the parent understanding that any traditional, societal notions of “normal” do not apply. To mourn an autistic child is to not accept them for who they are. It is to wish and pray for a replacement child that is easier to swallow and handle in association. It is not impossible to communicate and get closer to an autistic child. It requires effort to learn and understand the language system that the child uses. The preconceived notions of burden that are placed on caring for a disabled child morphs the view that parents have toward their autistic children and in turn can affect the child and the support that they may receive from their parents in the long run. However, Sinclair advised that approaching “respectively, without preconceptions, and with openness to learning new things, and [the parent] will find a world [that] could never have imagined (Sinclair).” This remedycreates the opportunity. Don’t mourn an autistic child. Instead, explore who they are and what they will be (Sinclair).
Foust, Rebecca. “Apologies to my OB-GYN.” Margie (2007): Electronic Ed.
Sinclair, Jim. “Don’t Mourn for Us.” Our Voice (1993): Electronic Ed.
I pledge – Nathalie Navia Luciano
Word Count – 1034