Autism Parents, Don’t Let the Bullies Silence You

I have a deep sympathy for the tribulations of autism parents and will continue to reject the wicked aspersions cast upon them.”

Parents are often shamed by disability activists for sharing stories of severe autism. Pictured: a young man with severe autism sitting in a tree with multiple iPads.

By Tom Clements

Neurodiversity (ND) advocates are a small but powerful ideological group who depend on the tacit support of a much larger group of well-intentioned social liberals. Not wanting to seem unkind, the mainstream liberals tend to go along with the trendy ideas however much they run contrary to prevailing evidence.

Through a sustained effort, social justice activists intent on reshaping the discussion around autism have effectively usurped parents and even mainstream organisations as the de facto authority on all things autism. To me and to many other advocates, autistic and non-autistic alike, this is a deeply disturbing trend, not least because of the fanaticism of those espousing such a counter-intuitive and counter-factual philosophy.

To those who understand the insidious nature of the ND movement (including the desire to de-fund therapeutics and programs for the severely autistic, and to disempower caring parents), it is all rather terrifying. In a cult-like fashion, parents, in a similar fashion to dissenting autistics like me, are attacked remorselessly if they dare transgress against any of neurodiversity’s rigid axioms. Rather than engage in discussion and debate, neurodiversity proponents would sooner intimidate autism parents who speak honestly about the daily difficulties of caring for a disabled child into silence.

One such parent is Eileen Lamb, an author, blogger and autism mum originally from France but now residing in Texas. Eileen is a committed advocate for her profoundly autistic son, Charlie, who is minimally verbal and communicates using an AAC device. She’s an eloquent storyteller who describes Charlie’s challenges in poignant detail without ever devolving into mawkish sentimentality. For the ‘sin’ of expressing occasional sadness over her son’s condition and the ways in which it limits him and his prospects in life, she was castigated by the mob, accused among other things of being a ‘martyr mom’, a common slur used by ND activists against parents, ‘a really horrible parent’ and ‘a shitty human being’. Eileen has been courageous in withstanding the deep-seated ill will of her opponents but admits that it has taken its toll on her mental wellbeing, compelling her to hold off social media for extended periods of time. Another parent on the receiving end of cruel abuse is Miriam Gwynne, a mother of a profoundly disabled autistic boy who, in a fearless blog post, pointedly declared: “We are fast reaching a point where parents are no longer allowed to be human, or ask for support or want to help their autistic child.”

As a young boy, I distinctly remember seeing my own parents struggling to cope with the relentless demands of looking after my severely autistic brother, Jack. Both my mum and my dad worked around the clock to ensure Jack was accommodated properly, that he got the support that he needed and that he was always able, albeit in a limited way, to participate in family life. This necessitated a total re-adjustment of their lives, including my mother making the wrenching decision to give up on a promising career in the medical profession in order to become a full-time carer. In the absence of my mum working, my dad, a graphic designer by trade, would sometimes go for several days without sleep to provide for the family. When he wasn’t working like a Trojan in his cramped attic office, he was usually repairing an electronic device Jack had hurled across the room in an uncontrollable rage. Either that or spending hours soaking and scrubbing a fresh poo stain on a newly laid carpet. Thankfully, Jack is a degree mellower than he was back when he was a child, but that’s not to say we as a family have it easy.

It is for this reason that I have a deep sympathy for the tribulations of other parents in similar situations and why, despite everything, I will continue to reject the wicked aspersions cast upon them. And to the parents of severely autistic children and adult-children who may be reluctant to speak out, I will say this: don’t let a vocal minority deter you from speaking candidly, even emotively, about your experiences. The neurodiversity cult may appear to be in the ascendency for the time being, but it’s only a matter of time before people, appalled by all the sanctimony and bullying that goes with it, reject it out of hand and return to the voices of authenticity, good sense and reason. Though autism will sadly remain fertile ground for quacks, profiteers and ideologues until science reveals its many mysteries, we can fight back in our own small but significant way by speaking and writing from the heart. The truth, after all, cannot remain long hidden.

Tom Clements is a British autistic writer. He is the author of The Autistic Buddha and The Autistic Brothers.

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