I have decided to borrow, with permission of course, a blogging idea from Spectrummy Mummy. She has been writing a post based on every letter of the alphabet. This is my first post.
I could start A for autism. But that would be just too typical, expected and quite frankly boring. Not because every new adventure with autism isn’t somehow an interesting, wholly unexpected and very individual adventure, but because, as I like to point out, there is a lot more to life than autism. We need to think about other aspects of our children. Their development takes on many different characteristics. We sometimes forget that everything our children do is not autism related.
I like to tell the story about CM2 and his foray into the nether world of senioritis. The last semester of high school was probably one of the most painful aspects of our educational experience, actually until the last few weeks of his first college semester. He was perhaps one of the most sullen, grumpy, pain in the ass children in his senior year, that I had ever come across. It only got worse until he was able to graduate.
The story goes that I was complaining to his special ed teachers about his behavior and they started to laugh. They laughed because what CM2 was having was a typical senior expression of his desire to NOT be in that school and to NOT listen to me anymore. The reality is that what he was feeling, experiencing and exhibiting, had nothing to do with autism. But was a typical reaction to a typical childhood transition. Me being who I was, hadn’t thought of it that way. Now the real reason the teachers laughed was because I was so flummoxed. Autism I could handle, but “typical” threw me for a loop…So in honor of my own blinders, my first post is dedicated to a typical human reaction and a typical human way to think about it. ACCOUNTABILITY…
What is accountability? We all studied the famous line on Harry Truman’s desk…The buck stops here. The question is what exactly does that mean? Does it mean you are responsible for everything that happens in your life? Are you responsible for the unseen and unknown variables that could affect an outcome? Are you responsible for the actions of others? Are you beholden to societal underpinnings that make you accountable even when you don’t think you really should be?
First, no you can’t be held responsible for everything that happens in your life. As autism parents, we should know that. We search and search in our own way to try to find a reason that our children have been the recipients of a developmental disability. We go over and over everything we ate, drank, moved, how we functioned, if we lived on the wrong block, in the wrong town, in the wrong state/country and even, odd as it might seem, do we make too much money since for a while there, some researchers said that autism was the disability most associated with financial success?
We look for our own accountability in what happened to our children and you know what? I have come to a conclusion. Sometimes “shit happens.” You could have had the most wonderful pregnancy. Took those horrible prenatal vitamins. Eat only what your doctor said. Drank only what you were told. Put on the requisite amount of weight. Did the right kind of exercise. Lived in a healthy environment. Had the best ever prenatal care. Had the most uneventful and drug-free labor and delivery. And yet your child still has to deal with the fact that they are differently abled for the rest of their lives.
Yes, you can take accountability for what happened to your child. But really, it is silly to punish yourself over something that you really could not control. It is not being blind to reality. It is accepting that you cannot control everything no matter how accountable you may wish to be.
Second, are you accountable for the response to the world around you to your child? Not, in general, you are not. But what you are accountable for is when you allow others to be mean or hurtful to your child and you do not step up. When a relative or a “friend” tells you all your child needs is a little more discipline and you say nothing. If you allow relatives or “friends” to make fun of your child’s mannerism or idiosyncrasies, then you are negligent in your duties to your child. Yes, here you are accountable. Sorry but if it means having no friends and alienating relatives then that is what you have to do. Your child comes first and believe me when I tell you, your child knows if you allow them to be mistreated.
No, you cannot control everything that happens in the world. You cannot control the ignorant person in the store who yells at your child or calls them a brat. However, even then you can use your words and fight back. I know I did on many occasions. Interestingly the few times that I did not, bother me to this day. It’s as if I let my child down by just walking away. Not wanting to make trouble. Don’t tell me its OK, because, in reality, it is not. Your child knows when you stand up for them and they will be the better off in the long run if you do. Even if it’s with a nasty old man in the post office who you yell at and tell him how ignorant and stupid he is. You may not be able to win such an argument, but your child hears you and knows that you will not let others be mean to them. (In fact, they might even thank you for it…mine did.) Sometimes it’s OK to just tell someone off.
Third, teaching your child that they are accountable for their mistakes. I think this is a hard one for all parents. But it becomes even more meaningful for those of us with special needs children. There are so many in our world that does not hold their children to any standard. They think their child can do no wrong. That somehow if a child gets a bad grade, starts a fight or bullies another child, then it is the schools’ fault, the other child’s fault and “oh my child would never bully anyone” reaction so it must be the other child bringing it on themselves. Furthermore, too often the parents of special needs children make excuses for their children instead of doing the truly hard work of making sure that their child learns right from wrong and socially appropriate behavior. Accountability is the hallmark of a happy adult. Do not infantilize your child by not allowing, or forcing them if the case may be, to grow-up.
Teaching a child accountability is what will get them through life successfully. You cannot tell your child that it is the way the teacher wrote the test that made it harder for them. Help them to understand how to successfully take that test. You can’t tell your child that their autism makes it OK for them not to follow the rules or allow them to use it as an excuse for bad behavior. (Now some children, despite their parent’s teachings try that path…CM2 did it once and only once- I assure you.) Society will hold them accountable for their actions and reactions. You must teach them how to manage their accountability.
The fourth area of accountability that you need to teach your children is that each one of us is accountable for our choice of friends. You cannot have friends who cheat, steal and lie and think that you will not be drawn into the web that they spin. You need to be accountable to teach your child how to surround themselves with good people. This is an arduous task. It is not so easy to teach a typical child this skill, never mind teaching this to a child who just doesn’t get the social contract. But teach it you have to. Setting out benchmarks of right and wrong. Setting out rules and regulations about people. Setting out standards of interaction between people is a good start. Remember you are judged by the company you keep.
Lastly, the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that “we are our choices.” Does that mean the minute you make a mistake you are forever tainted? No, I don’t think so, not at all. I believe what he meant is that we are each accountable for our actions or in some cases our inactions. In fact, I would hazard a guess that what Sartre was decrying was more the inaction than even the poor action. A person who does not take charge of their life, those that take no accountability for their lives, has a very uneventful and useless life. Only when we grab life and live it to the fullest are we totally fulfilling our destinies. But for that, you need to be accountable. That is why it is so important that on the road to our children’s future we make darn certain that they learn about accountability. For no matter how hard we try to make sure they have the future of their choice, it will do them no good if they cannot be responsible for the life they choose.
Until next time,