If you express a hatred of autism, chances are very high that someone will come along and tell you how offensive your hatred is, without making any effort to either support or understand the person doing the hating. You may get a lecture about how autism can’t be separated from the person, so to hate the autism is to hate your child. Or about how “hate” is such a strong word (as if that in itself is an argument). So I’ve decided to write a post supporting the haters, because in my experience, hating the haters solves nothing, and in fact can further their hurt and confusion. What they really need is a great big hug.
The first thing to appreciate is that hatred or anger, is usually just a stage in the process of coming to terms with a child’s diagnosis. Learning about autism itself, and the impact on a child, is not a one-day experience, it is a one-day-at-a-time experience. It’s commonly said (and quite accurately in my experience) that it can take a good year to reach full understanding and acceptance of what it means to have a child diagnosed with this life-long condition. How long it actually takes will differ according to how severe the autism is, and the family’s previous knowledge and experience with autism, there’s no one-size-fits-all here.
Telling the parent (and it’s usually a parent being attacked for hating autism), that their emotions are invalid or offensive, completely ignores the fact that the hatred is probably transitory, and that going through that emotion is a necessary part of eventually reaching full acceptance. If you deny them the chance and right to express their genuine emotions, you are neither helping them nor their child, you are just asking them to suppress their emotions, which is particularly unhealthy and can slow down their progression.
Instead – even if the parent is not new to the autism diagnosis – the sensible and helpful approach is to first ask why they hate it. Perhaps they are confused about what causes autism – many people see autism as something thrust upon them by vaccines, which makes them angry. Fine, take the chance to inform them and change their mind through better information. Maybe they’re hating autism because they’re extremely depressed in general and are struggling with all aspects of life at the time, fine, then offer them some kind words of support and reassurance, and maybe point them in the direction of professional help. Or maybe they’re so angry because they feel utterly helpless in the face of the behavioural challenges of autism, in which case they need to be told about things like PECS or occupational therapy or whatever else can help whatever’s challenging them the most. For each of those various causes of the hatred, the help differs. Just telling them to “not hate”, addresses none of those issues.
When you tell someone not to express an emotion, the emotion still remains, and can in fact intensify because the person is receiving the message that what they think, feel and experience, has to go unsaid. It increases bitterness, and that sense of isolation (physical and emotional isolation is a huge problem for parents of autistic children already). They will – sooner or later – find someone else who hates autism just like they do, who aren’t as well-informed and capable of lessening the anger and helping them address the causes (and who will let them speak honestly about their emotions since they share those emotions). The last thing you want is a community of angry, misinformed parents feeding off each other’s confusions.
It is far better to welcome these haters with open arms; expose them to new attitudes and reasons for those different attitudes, at the same time as respecting how they currently feel about what can be a very difficult condition to manage. Because attitudes don’t spring forth from nothing, or being told that your previous attitude was wrong; they come from information, experiences and can change gradually through being part of a community. Better it be the welcoming community that disagrees, than the welcoming community that reinforces that hatred.
The idea that hating autism is the same as hating the child / person with autism, is assuming far too much, and painting the hater as a villain when if you asked a few questions, you’ll probably find the exact opposite: That they are saying they hate autism, because they deeply love their child, and don’t wish to confuse together their feelings about one with the other: “I don’t hate my child, I hate the challenges that autism is putting him through”. It is a good thing then that they are separating the two, you don’t want someone to be hating their child (it is a sad fact that some people do hate their autistic child, be glad the person who says they hate autism has made a distinction!)
The argument that autism is intrinsic to the child, and therefore to hate autism is necessarily to hate the child, is a hotly contested idea. If you want to have that debate with the parent, then have that debate openly, don’t assume they accept your premise that the two are inseparable then skip to attacking them for feeling something they don’t feel (ie hatred of autistic people).
Yes there are people out there who hate autism, full-stop. Maybe they don’t understand the huge variation in autism, and see it only through the severe cases they’ve personally interacted with. Hell, maybe they just hate differences and would use eugenics to wipe out all differences in human beings (that has got to be the rarest possibility, but is often treated as what the haters must really want, and are attacked accordingly). But how can you know if you never ask, and how can you correct them when you don’t know what they’re actually saying; as I’ve tried to make it clear in this post, there’s a huge variation in what they might mean and why they feel the way they do. It might sound trite, but if you really want to stop people hating autism, you can do it best by showing the haters a bit of love.