Regardless of the reasons that lead up to it, I’ve never condoned my autistic son being violent. Whether the violence was due to fear, anxiety, anger or confusion, if he went to cause someone harm I would do everything in my power to stop him and let him know it was unacceptable. This seems obvious to me. It worked too, though it took a while. He went from a destructive, biting, hitting little boy, to the almost-always gentle child I have today. In fact, he is gentler than most children his age. But not all parents have the same attitude as I do, and my son has been at the receiving end of it, while the parents just stood there and watched.
One such incident happened at an autism play-group for preschoolers. One particularly violent child was an absolute bully. The parents just stood there and watched it, seeming to accept that it was part-and-parcel of the autism. I don’t like telling other people’s children off, particularly when the parent is right there, so I did nothing except try to keep my son out of his way. At one point the children went out to play, my son and this bully were in the sandpit. The bully threw sand at my boy’s face! Can you imagine how distressing that is – sand in the hair, mouth, nose, eyes even. I told him to stop it, but he persisted, even though his speech was remarkably good for an autistic child and he clearly understood what I was saying.
That was the first time that I thought some people might just be crap parents, and using the label of “autism” to not take responsibility for their children’s behaviour – an opinion I’ve heard many times over from other people both before and since then. But over time I’ve refined that view to this: It’s not that some parents are bad parents and simply use autism as an excuse when their child doesn’t actually have autism. Rather, from what I’ve seen, it’s simply that having an autistic child doesn’t automatically mean you are a misunderstood and good parent. To put it another way, a child can be a misbehaving terror with negligent or bad parents, and also happen to genuinely be autistic.
I had a similar thing happen today at the local playground. My son and I ran into another family there and we started chatting away, as you do. Then their three year-old boy started pushing my son, prodding him, hitting him. My son kept backing up and trying to protect himself, still the boy advanced. I watched the parents do nothing, even though they were right there watching their son attacking my own. I tried to intervene, I said to my son “tell him no, stop”, and my son mimicked me as instructed. Still the boy pushed, still the parents did nothing. I gently tried again to get the parents to tell their own son off “he doesn’t seem to want to leave my boy alone..”. To which the mother replied, “oh he’s just being territorial because he loves me and doesn’t want other boys around.” Still, no effort to tell off or stop the boy. So I said we had to leave and took my son off home. On the way home I told him he was good for telling the boy to stop, and that boy had been mean, and hitting was bad. At least my son understood this, despite all the language issues in his way. Their child had no such excuse.
There is no link between bad parenting and autism, nor between good parenting and autism. There are just good parents, and bad parents, and sometimes their children have autism.