There's so much I wanted to say, not only to pound some actual knowledge into whatever Savage uses for a brain, but also to defend those families who have been besieged by the heartbreak and hardship of living with someone, especially their children, with Autism.
I wondered how Savage might feel it were his child who was constantly being met with disapproving stares from strangers who recommend that "if your child can't behave maybe you shouldn't take him out in public." And how he might feel if the knew that it is going to happen every single day.
But as I began to write a note to Savage, I realized that it would be more appropriate to have someone who knows full well the devastation felt of not only hearing the diagnosis of your child as autistic, but having to live through the day to day sadness, frustration and pain you feel when it hits you that your child may never have what most would consider a typical life. For that, I turned to my son, Ryan:
My beautiful eight year-old daughter Rebecca has a diagnosis of Autism.
Autism is a brain development disorder that impairs social interaction and communication, and causes restricted and repetitive behavior. That diagnosis in itself may help define a set of Rebecca's symptoms, but it far from defines who she is any more than insensitive or mean-spirited totally describes you.
Rebecca can be sweet, funny, happy, sad, angry, silly, frustrating, irritating, gentle, kind or any number of other adjectives you'd use to describe a typical eight year-old, though brat is not one that her doctors have used to describe her. That usually only comes from those ignorant of her condition.
When Rebecca is having a meltdown or dealing with any other upsetting moment in a public place, we are almost always met with judgmental glares from onlookers who are thinking, boy, if that was my child... or who might even say, "If you can't control that child, keep her home!" God forbid these people ask if there anything they can do to help you. It's something every parent of an autistic child has had to deal with most every day.
If you don't understand Autism, its very easy to say or think such things. I probably did too before my wife and I had Rebecca, but I never went on a radio show, where millions of people believe I am some sort of authority, to label innocent children as a moron or idiot. That you supposedly hold master's degrees in medical botany and medical anthropology makes your actions even more shameful.
Imagine, Mr. Savage, if you lacked the ability to express your feelings, thoughts or needs. Imagine if this were your child. Would you want your child smeared for something they had no control over? Many children with autism lack the capacity to verbalize their feelings instead act them out. This is not how they act like a putz. This is how they communicate.
Being her father, I see Rebecca's many challenges, stressors and unexpected events that challenge her ability to get through each and every day. As parents, her stressful and frustrating moments become OUR stressful and frustrating moments. What loving parent doesn't cheer when their child succeeds or aches when their child is hurt, frustrated or upset?
Because the world challenges Rebecca so incessantly it would be easy to want to keep her home, insulated from the world, protecting her against the whirlwind of circumstances that at once can delight her one moment or upset and anger her the next. But ours is a life built on "that which does not kill you, can only make you stronger." With each challenge Rebecca meets head on, she can learn and grow, hopefully adapting to the world, one step at a time. With each fall that she rises from she learns to walk a little stronger; gains confidence, and actually learns to become the best Rebecca she can be.
What no parent of a special needs child wants is to be pre-judged or isolated and kept in the shadows so that people like you don't have to look at a child with a disability. We want and need support of those around us and hope upon hope that our child be treated with compassion and understanding.
This week, you Mr. Savage, have made that a little harder.
Rebecca's Proud Dad, Ryan Young
Ryan Young is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in New York. His dad is the author of "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful" (www.greatfailure.com)
Comments? Send a letter to the editor.
Albion Monitor July
18, 2008 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
All Rights Reserved.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.