17 May 2015

A Post to Guardian Dad For Autistic Kid

Content warning- disablism.

Yesterday the Guardian published a letter from a man to his autistic son entitled, A letter to … my son, who has autism, for whom I’ll always do my best. Read this at your peril as it is truly vile.

With just a few deviations, this letter follows the tried and tested Assembly Manual for Autism Articles TM  which I created in 2008.

Guardian Dad starts off describing Autistic Kid's arrival into the world, how he felt "total, unconditional love" and envisaged watching Autistic Kid "grow up, go to university, find love, then maybe settle down and have his own family." The thought that Autistic Kid might not want to follow such a path doesn't seem to have occurred to him.

He then weirdly complains about his own parents' choice to leave Autistic Kid "half of everything" in their wills. Is this because Guardian Dad wanted it all for himself?

Then, following stage 4 of the autism article template, "the parents realise the child is somehow different, something is not quite right" Guardian Dad describes how Autistic Kid "didn't play very well [...] flitting from toy to toy, with no concern for the people around you and ignoring any child who engaged with you."

I would speculate that Autistic Kid was playing differently not badly and it's impossible to say he lacked concern for other people. Autistic Kid's other kiddie crime was to "only talk to adults when [he] wanted them to do something" so we know he communicated via speech. Anyway, it turned out that Autistic Kid is autistic.

Then Guardian Dad for the second time in a 700 word article, expresses how he hates himself for being right. Despite his professed aversion, he sure wants us to know about his rightness record.

The next section is outrageous and warrants a content warning. Remember this is aimed at a six-year-old child:
"You love your mother, which is good – because you make her life hell. Without your outward signs of affection towards her I don’t know if she could maintain the abuse you put her through. I've watched a loving, kind woman become a tired, hard, uncaring, dispassionate bitch. But all this is aimed at me, with you only getting the occasional frustrated tone, or at worst a sigh of irritation. 
She loves you with all her heart, but that means there is no room for anything else. She will fight for you until her last breath. But any type of intimacy between the two of us has vanished. In six years she’s aged 20 while I’ve put on 30lb and have become more isolated than ever. I hold back as much as I can, but sometimes I snap. I’m sorry. I know it distresses you when we argue, and I hate myself for doing it."  [My bold]
There is so much wrong with this. Guardian Dad ignores the power relationship between a small child and an adult couple. The child is not abusive- he isn't using coercive behaviours to maintain power and control over the parents. He has a developmental disability that affects how he perceives and interacts with the world. He may well have multiple sensory sensitivities. And believe me, Autistic Kid is picking up on how Guardian Dad feels about him and his mother.

I am disturbed by Guardian Dad's venomous depiction of his wife and the revelation that he sometimes snaps and argues with his wife though he knows it distresses Autistic Kid.

Guardian Dad feels "bereaved – for the family I should have had. I am a good person and this should not be happening to me." He talks about how he thinks about leaving. Poor Guardian Dad, my heart bleeds for him. He was owed a more perfect life than this with a faulty child and a tired, hard, uncaring, dispassionate bitch for a wife. And he got fat. None of this is his fault, oh no he's a "good person". We know this because he says it though he doesn't share anything that shows it.
"But we love you more than ever. You’re not responsible for any of this – it’s your disability. We know that you try your best, but you become confused and anxious about everything that is going on around you.  Neither your mother nor I know what the future will hold, but we still feel the same way about you today as that first time we saw you."
Guardian Dad is blaming Autistic Kid even though he knows that the world is a scary place for him. Writing this letter to a public forum is not a loving act. It adds to the mountain of anti-autism rhetoric that will only serve to make life harder for Autistic Kid, my own son, and all other autistic people.

Guardian Dad absolves himself from all responsibility. He resents the time his wife spends with his son. He directly places the blame for life not turning out how he wanted it to on the shoulders of a disabled child.

If he had written this to his therapist that would be ok. If he had written an article expressing how he finds it difficult to father his autistic child and described some of the problems they had faced, that would also be fine- so long as he didn't blame the kid. If he had described how social security cuts are impacting on his family and how he has to fight for support I would applaud him. If he had come to me in my work and shared these thoughts with me I would have encouraged him to figure out what he could do to make things better and helped him get appropriate support from various agencies. But Guardian Dad wrote a very public letter even if it is anonymous. His sense of entitlement and self-absorption shine through every paragraph. The Guardian would never have published a letter from a father blaming their small non-disabled child for all their problems.

Autistic Kid didn't get the father he should have. I would like him to know: you keep on being your own awesome autistic self and I hope that one day you will know there is a community out there who will welcome, understand and embrace you.


Unknown said...

Thank you for writing this, I read the guardian letter yesterday, it wasn't about a father reaching out, it was a father who hates autism, the language was very negative towards his son and derogatory, I was disgusted by it, and delighted to see you addressing it today. I just hope his son never gets to read it.

Mary said...

I note with alarm that when Autistic Kid has a meltdown and Mum has to deal with it, it's "abuse", but when Guardian Dad has a meltdown and "snaps" and distresses both wife and child it's okay, because he's totally a good person.

I also don't quite see how it makes her a "cold hard bitch" to show more patience to her child than to her supposedly adult husband.

Anonymous said...

The chilling part for me in Guardian Dad letter, was (paraphrase) "I don't drink because I am afraid of what I might do." :(

Unknown said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Guardian dad supposedly hates himself (for being right). To my mind, he doesn't hate himself nearly enough (for being dead wrong).

Teresa said...

This man needs support not judgment education and counselling would be of some help to him. Many families feel this way there is very little support out there for parents who have to first of all deal with diagnosis of their child with autism and secondly try and fight for services for their children which takes years in some cases to get. This is man who needs support for him to come to terms with this situation he is in.

Sharon McDaid said...

Thank you all for taking the time to read and comment. Yesterday I engaged On The Guardian facebook page and it was very unpleasant. Most replies accused me of being horrible to the poor man and seemed not to care about the child or woman he was writing about.

Lorraine, I too hope the child never reads that. I am just sorry so many autistic people will have read it.

Mary yes those are good points. And like Anon says, his comment about what he might do if he drank is worrying.

Thanks Siobhan. He comes across as very self-absorbed and I spot several red flags that lead me to suspect he may be abusive.

Sharon McDaid said...

Teresa he does need support and education on how to be a better parent and partner. Perhaps the Guardian should have given him sources of such support instead of publishing his venomous letter. Many families feel overwhelmed and unsupported- but they don't write a public letter blaming a little child for their problems, whining about the life they somehow felt entitled to (as though anyone knows what the future holds for their children) and disparaging their spouse in the most chilling terms. It's the wife and child I worry about most in this situation given what the man has disclosed.

Teresa said...

Sharon a lot of people feel like this at times a lot of people with children with autism have a lot of challenges we don't know this mans circumstances regarding his child. People need to show human compassion and understanding. I know people who have had to put their children in care because of the constant physical and verbal abuse the receive from their children does that make them bad parents because they are taking other members of their family into consideration as well. People need to think before what they say on forum groups sensitivity needs to applied right across the board to other parents who are left with no other choice.

Teresa said...

Some people view this as black and white it's not as simple as that. Children on the spectrum have different challenges and are very complex behaviours very hard to understand. It's not black and white.

Unknown said...

Teresa, autism may not be black and white but blaming your small child for your life not turning out the way you think you "deserve", calling your wife names, insinuating you would commit a violent act if you drank, is black and white wrong.
This guy is a "good person" as long as everything goes "his" way.
Having been married to a person like this, I fear for the child and wife, and I hope she leaves before it's too late.

Teresa said...

Hi Michelle I don't interpret that way. This is cry for help and support god knows I lived with someone who was quiet controlling as well and I can tell u he wouldn't have put it on paper as this man has done he would probably have kicked me and kids out of the house for disturbing his day of sports!!!

Teresa said...

What I see is dispair anger grief and isolation is what read all very normal emotions to feel when your at the grief process I remember saying to myself at one stage is this as good as it gets thank god with early intervention I got some of my son back, a child who wouldn't look at you push you away when you cuddled him, I suffered post natal depression after my first child was born I blamed myself for years because I didn't bond with after a c section, I made myself believe I gave my child autism it was only after the birth of my second child and after I had a break down myself that it wasn't anyone's fault. I can clearly see where this man is coming from its one very dark hole to come out of.

Unknown said...

"You got some of your son back?"

Stop that right there with your ableist (I'm American, that's what we say) crap.

Your son is autistic. He was born autistic and will die autistic, and to say that he is somehow "lost" is beyond offensive to anyone who is autistic. We're not lost or missing. We're right here. If you can't deal with it, that is YOUR problem. I'd rather a child be in foster care and have a chance at a good life than with a parent who sees their fundamental neurology as something broken.

No. I am done with the hatefulness. Because it is hatefulness. If you use PCs and you had a kid who was a Mac user, you wouldn't consider him deficient. Autistic people are Macs in a PC world - not broken, not in need of correction. Different, and we have the God damn right to exist as different.

I'm not saying that we're never wrong or that we don't handle things inappropriately. But for example, Autistic Kid from this letter, if he hits or has a meltdown, it's almost certainly because something is wrong. We don't melt down for kicks or to get attention - we do it because we can't handle reality anymore. Treating the "behavior" doesn't do anything - finding the underlying cause does. But parents like this male parent (not a father; a real father shows love!) don't understand that, because it's all about Them - everything happens to make THEIR life better or worse.

This is a man who will murder his child someday if he is not educated. I am not being hyperbolic. I don't care what he needs at this point. I care about preventing abuse and murder of autistics.

Teresa said...

@ cc who ever u are great to sit behind a computer and spit venom u need serious help by ur comments nothing but a coward

Teresa said...

@cc most children with challenging behaviour ends up in residential care not in foster care and end up in institutions after they turn 18 most families that provide foster care services don't provide care for children with challenging behaviours

Unknown said...

You're calling me a coward why, exactly? I'm an autistic adult who sees the harm that bigoted ableist parents do to autistic children. This article is disgusting and if you don't agree, frankly, you're part of the problem. Fuck your precious feelings when there are autistic lives at stake.

Teresa said...

@ cc if u are autistic then by your comments you have just insulted my 2 children it's not my feelings that hurt its my children I'm glad u have called mother of 2 autistic a bigot anbleist who has fought so hard for early intervention for them both I'm sure my children will appreciate my efforts to secure a better quality of life for them. Your own comments have being more then offensive to my autistic children

Sharon McDaid said...

Comment moderation has now been turned on and I apologise that several disablist statements were published while I was away.

Teresa this is an autism accepting space and attacks on autistic people are not tolerated.

Guardian Dad disparaged his wife and child in a public forum and that is unacceptable. He did not ask for help. His anti-autism rhetoric is damaging. Ideas about "getting autistic kids back" as though they are trapped on some other plane are damaging too. Such rhetoric absolves society of responsibility for the appalling way autistic and learning disabled people are treated especially as adults. Though Teresa is wrong to say that all young people with what is labelled "challenging behaviour" end up in residential care- too many do. That is not the fault of those individuals but is because they have been routinely dehumanised in the media. Their lives are thought not to matter.

The best thing I did for my autistic son was to listen to autistic adults and learn from them.

Unknown said...

Anyone wondered if Guardian Dad might be on the spectrum? He appears to lack flexibility of thought to imagine how his wife and child feel.
(I have a son with Asperger who is now 22 and amazing, and a husband who although undiagnosed has obvious signs of ASD, and can be a nightmare to live with at times because he can't see how his acts affect others!)

Sharon McDaid said...

Delia I don't wonder if he is autistic. I suspect that he is controlling and deliberately uncaring.

Anonymous said...

All kind of thoughts and feelings came up reading the letter and all the comments posted.
For me neurodiversity is about celebrating human diversity, with all its humans colours, ways and abilities. Our world with this beautiful and great variety of human beings. It is about understanding that we all play a part in existence, embracing all humans. We should not exclude anyone, but accept all, autistic or not, every life is to be celebrated.It does not matter what we are, or even who we are, but just the simple fact that we are and we are here to learn from one another. Everyone of us faces difficult times in life and we all say or do things that we maybe should not have. But the fact is we do and sometimes we do because we have to learn, or need help to understand why we see or feel as the person we are, to grow and open ourselves to life, to what it brings. Or sometimes it opens something in others, so they might learn or understand. We do not know how it is to be the other. To judge the other is to judge ourselves.We all look at the world from our own little world. But if we try to understand or feel compassion for the other, we in fact embrace ourselves. A very wise man once said;
All diversity springs from one unity!

Sharon McDaid said...

Saying something in the heat of the moment to a trusted confidante is one thing, sitting down to write an article for publication in a major newspaper is quite another. There is no excuse for what this man wrote. I reserve all my compassion for his wife and child who I fear are living with someone who could be dangerous.
We may all face difficult times in life but we must recognise that there is widespread and pervasive discrimination against neurodivergent people. What Guardian Dad did adds to that.

Elly said...

Its amazing so many different views on this letter. For a group presentation on portrayals of autism, we decided to use this letter and show all angles and sides. We are doing a small survey and we would like to get an idea how the following 5 groups feel about this letter and if it has an affect on peoples persective on autism; general public, professionals, parents, siblings and neurodiversity movement.
We ask 3 questions:
1.How did this article make you feel?
2.Why did it make you feel this way?
3.Did it change your perspective on autism?
If there is anyone that would like to reply please do, also if possible please let us know to what group you 'belong'?