My husband and I talk about a lot of things. We’re the kind of people who can start with a conversation about which historical figures would be best as President and Vice President of the US…and end up arguing about whether Hannibal of Carthage could take Teddy Roosevelt in a fight.
We talk about a lot of things.
Yesterday, I was talking to my husband about vaccines.
There was no question about them, we’re both pro-vaccine. There’s no evidence that vaccines do anything negative. The hyped up mercury is less than what you find in a can of tuna. And honestly, even if there was a risk, it’s worth it in the face of the lives it saves.
And yet, people still persist in believing the myth that vaccines cause Autism.
My nephew, Karl, is Autistic. We had an idea that he was even before he got his first round of shots. In contrast to what the anti-vaccine crowd says, he actually improved during the same time when he was getting all his shots.
The reason is because his development had nothing at all to do with vaccines. Saying that vaccines have anything to do with Autism is like saying thunder causes milk to curdle…it’s not true, and believing it makes you look like a Monty Python sketch.
But, that conversation got me thinking about something else: Why are so many more kids being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders these days?
The theory I came up with is kind of off the wall; and completely unprovable.
It works like this:
Autism is so prevalent that everyone knows or knows of someone in their regular contact circle who is being directly affected by Autism.
Autism awareness and awareness of what parents of Autistic kids, Autistic kids, and Autistic adults go through every day is becoming more and more visible to the public.
Meaning that the everyday battles and skirmishes that play out for a parent of an Autistic child are right out in the open.
And Autistic kids are making us look at things a little differently too.
For example, my nephew Karl hates pants.
When he was 8, he was still using pull-ups though.
Because of that, society wanted to tell my sister that she had to keep his lack of potty training secret. The reason was because showing that he was still in pull ups at that age would make her look like a bad parent. So pants were supposed to be an unavoidable MUST.
She wasn’t buying it.
First of all, Karl is big for his age. He’s also really strong. He’s also very sensitive of how things feel touching him. Brushing his hair, his teeth, baths, those are things worth the struggle. Pants when he’s at home…not so much.
Second, who cares if he’s not wearing pants at home? I don’t want to wear pants at home, I do it because people say I’m supposed to, not because I actually want to. Screw pants!
You see, my sister realized that a lot of the things she was being told by others that she should do with/to/for Karl to make him more “normal” weren’t for his benefit, but for theirs.
She was being told to do these things so that someone else wouldn’t feel uncomfortable; with no concern given to how uncomfortable Karl was being made to feel.
It made the neighbors uncomfortable to see an eight year old running around his own backyard on a hot Florida summer afternoon in nothing but a pull-up. According to them, she was supposed to feel embarrassed and ashamed that Karl hadn’t been potty trained yet. And, in accordance with that shame, she was supposed to properly hide her failing.
Karl didn’t care, but they did.
This isn’t to say that my sister just lets everything he does slide…she very quickly curbed his hitting phase, for example…she just picks her battles. When she starts getting really frustrated over something he’s doing she stops and asks herself, is making him do this really that important?
Is this really for his benefit, or is it for someone else’s?
There are lots and lots and lots of other parents in her shoes who have had to do this as well.
Karl runs in screaming circles in the yard, making tons of noise. Someone will invariably ask my sister why she hasn’t stopped him. She responds with “why?”. He’s outside, it’s the middle of the day, there’s noise all around, so what’s it really hurting to let him do something as simple as run and make noise? So what if he’s 13, it’s not hurting anyone else and he’s happy.
Being a parent of an Autistic child makes you look at things differently. It makes you look at an action and ask if this is something that I really need to bother arguing about, or can I just let this go? And the older the child gets, the more easily those decisions are to make. Karl wants a traditionally dinner food for breakfast, fine.
It teaches you compromise.
It teaches you that sometimes the only reason we are fighting against someone doing something is because it’s the way it’s always been, not because it’s actually something anyone needs to bother someone else about.
I think that because so many more parents are having to compromise so often, and because the relatively small compromises being made are becoming much easier to reconcile, it’s leading to more people overall being able to make these kinds of compromises.
It’s also helped change our viewpoint overall.
Think about it.
It started like this…
Stories about Autistic kids being bullied by the adults around them started making the rounds on the usual social media outlets. We started becoming more outraged by some asshole’s need to be an asshole—by insisting that Autistic kids, who like to make random noises, be separated or excluded from everyday things like eating in a restaurant—than we are by a kid’s need to simply be a kid. Autistic or not.
The next step in the progression is to start looking at the kinds of people who want to ignore, hide, or otherwise silence, Autistic kids, and kids with other disabilities, and wonder why they get to make those decisions.
Gradually, as a society, we start using that test with other things. We start asking if things that are just sort of arbitrarily condemned as bad or wrong should really be condemned.
We start asking the world around us “Is this really going to hurt anything?”
So we start changing things. “Kids can make noises, it’s not bothering anything” slowly becomes “Let Steve and Gary get married if they want, it’s not bothering anything.”
Our collective thinking on issues is changing because we are learning to be more understanding of simple individuality. At the same time, we’re also learning when to and when not to stifle individuality.
My cashier at the grocery store has bright blue hair and tattoos; doesn’t bother me.
My cashier at the grocery store smells like feet and corn chips; bothers me.
We no longer accept “You can’t do that, people will make fun of you.” We’re turning it into “You can’t make fun of someone for that, it’s not right.”
We share pictures with each other that say things like teach your kid to stop bullying kids with same sex parents instead of trying to keep same sex parents from adopting.
This is part of the reason why when a 9 year old boy in North Carolina was being bullied for carrying a My Little Pony lunch box and was told by the school to stop carrying the lunch box so that he would stop being bullied, the internet began to erupt.
Collectively, we asked the question: Why make him stop instead of making the bullies stop?
I’ve even watched the progressive change in my husband’s mind over the last few years. He’s gone from “Don’t do that, people will make fun of you.” To “Go ahead, but don’t bitch when people make fun of you.” To “Why should people be allowed to make fun of you for that?”
We don’t laugh at the disabled anymore, we laugh at the assholes who make fools of themselves by trying to make fun of the disabled, different, daring, or original.
We’re not where we need to be yet, but we’re getting closer.
And I think we have a huge number of Autistic kids to thank for helping us see a better future.