I regularly read forum posts on a local site where I have a trading account. The forum includes a parenting section, where parenting topics are discussed and parenting concerns are raised. I’m used to seeing the occasional autism-related discussion and sharing my two cents worth (because – in case you haven’t noticed – I sure do have a lot to say about autism). Every so often I encounter a discussion that makes me realise how deeply divided the gulf is between me and other parents, because of my experiences with my autistic son. Though sometimes you really must wonder if the divide isn’t a more general one; one of compassion and respect that goes beyond our personal experiences. I’m going to share a recent example with you (from earlier this month), I’d be interested in hearing your take on it.
The original poster is outraged because someone called her 17 month old “slow.” Specifically,
“…someone i know has gone and told another friend (who i am close to) that my miss 17mths is slow
she does say the basics mum,dad whos that and what that
this is really upsetting for me that someone who i throught was a friend to go saying this crap behind me back
would you confront the person about his or let it go over your head”
Note that what she’s upset about in her comment is not actually the fact her child appears to be struggling with language (that her 17 month old doesn’t say many words, though their child is more advanced than my NT son at that age). She is upset because someone observed this fact and told others. As if being slow is a horrendous insult to one’s child (and apparently to the parent too). As the mother of a remarkably slow child, I don’t see such things as insults, I see it as a fact – correct or otherwise – about a child.
Before I commented that I thought she was over-reacting (and being somewhat insulting in the process), I had to read my way through comment after comment replying to her that it was indeed a terrible thing to say about a child, and that they were sure her child would turn out normal. All reinforcing the attitude that saying a child is anything other than normal really is some deep insult.
But right at the bottom of the discussion, just as I was ready to comment, I read something that turned my stomach. Here’s the comment in full:
“it is sad when people make comments about your beloved child….my sister said one of my daughters was retarded…cause she smiled to much..she was a very happy delightful child…….i was heartbroken. her daughter has aspergers, so i guess Karma got her big time lol bet your girl is just gorgeous, give her a kiss and cuddle!!!!!!!!”
Read it again if you like, and yes, that’s a real comment from an established member of the site.
She was heartbroken because someone pointed out that they thought her child was slow too. She uses the word retarded but it is very unclear if that was the word actually used by her sister; my guess by the entire tone of the comment and all preceding comments is that “retarded” is her own word of choice for “slow” – developmental delayed or intellectually disabled – children. Her outrage appears directed at the sister’s accusation, rather than the use of the word “retarded.” But that’s not the main bit that turned my stomach, as you’ve probably guessed.
Apparently, “accusing” (pointing out) that you think someone else’s child has issues, leads to the karma of having a truly challenged child yourself. That, according to this parent, is justice at work.
Furthermore, not only is it justice, it is something to laugh about; to take glee in. “That’ll teach you for showing concern for my child, now you have a child with serious issues, roll on the floor laughing why don’t we all…”
And then finish off with the proposition “bet your girl is just gorgeous,” as if that sits in juxtaposition to the claim that their child is otherwise slow. Now maybe I’m reading too much into her pointing out that she thinks the girl in question might be gorgeous, but considering the tone of the entire comment, I doubt it.
As is, there was enough there for me to be astounded. Even worse, not one of the preceding 30 or so commenters had any reply to this last person’s thoughts, even though that last comment came mere minutes after the preceding one, the whole thread had been quite active through-out. That comment just sits there, on a very public and popular forum, no one saying boo or oi or what the f*ck. I discovered the conversation two days later and replied of course. Thankfully another person came along after me and shared my sentiments. But that was it.
Clearly, slow children like mine are seen as something to be ashamed of by many people. Pointing out that a child is developmentally behind other children, is apparently a deep insult, to both the child and the parent. Being normal and developing normally, isn’t just something to want for the well-being of your child, and a concern when it doesn’t happen. It’s some sort of moral statement and judgment that deserves a counter-attack of this sort of ferocity.
With attitudes like these still buzzing around, and going unchallenged, it is no wonder that parents often don’t seek an explanation of their child’s challenges, or dismiss them when others bring them up. This makes the parents who do seek help, even stronger in my eyes; because they put their child’s wellbeing and figuring out if their child needs help, beyond the category of mere gossip and insults.
Clearly, there is a long way to go in raising awareness about developmental disabilities, and the fact that they are not something to be ashamed of – for anyone. The silence in response to that person’s comment was itself – to me – a statement of its apparent acceptability. The real insult here, is the ignorance and lack of compassion of that last commenter. They – not slow children or their parents – have something to be ashamed of.