Parenting worlds apart; the insult of the “slow child”


Image by Auntie P via Flickr

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.

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11 Responses to Parenting worlds apart; the insult of the “slow child”

  1. Aspie says:

    “… has aspergers, so i guess Karma got her big time”
    So the fact that I (and my son) have Aspergers is bad Karma, according to this woman?

    Wow! What a load of crap. If it weren’t for people with Aspergers, everyone would probably still be living in caves socializing with each other. (Paraphrased from Temple Grandin)
    “For success in science or art, a dash of autism is essential.” ~ Dr. Hans Asperger

    The lady who said that is in need of a great big wake up call! I hope your reply to this kicked her right where it counts to get her straightened out!

  2. Sharon says:

    This doesnt really surprise me, sadly, Many people, if not most, seem to see their children as an extension of themselves, which I suppose is understandable. But it also leads to unfortunate competition and comparisons. Whose child walks, talks, starts solids etc first. The converse of this being whose child does these things last? These are the ‘slow’ kids I guess, and are somehow seen as inferior by some to their typically developing peers. (Dont get me started on parents who refuse to accept their child may be struggling)

    Thing is, it has never occurred to me to see my son as less than. I have never felt a sense of shame about his disability. I carry fears for him and his struggles, but I am really proud of how he manages despite his challenges. I think he is the coolest kid I know.

    Warning, this is where you start to see my misanthropic streak – In my opinion the person who made that comment is being unintentionally ironic. If you know what I mean. There’s a lot of stupid around.

  3. KDL says:

    I think, honestly, that people who are unfamiliar with developmental challenges just don’t think very hard about what they are saying in these conversations. I have to rewind in my mind to the days before I understood my own child’s challenges – to conversations that I had and comments I made, unthinking! to other parents. Perhaps I am growing cynical…but it is actually astounding to me when I meet people who care enough to ask for proper language, who ask honest questions and listen to my sedate, calm answers, much more than I am surprised to find people who have no interest in being compassionate and careful.

    • There’s truth in that for sure KDL. I would like to think I would never have been the sort of person / parent who would see special needs as causing of shame, and something to laugh about when it happens to others (particularly the latter – I think there’s a deeper cruelty in that). Maybe, if my first child hadn’t had special needs, I would have had very different attitudes to the vast majority of the comments on that discussion thread; perhaps I would have dismissed it as over-anxious parents worrying too much what others think. The deeper appreciation of the underlying attitudes show in such a discussion, is I think – as you suggest – something that people in our position are simply far more aware of.

  4. sarasiobhan says:

    This reminds me of years ago, when my oldest daughter was at nursery. A small group of kids, including her, were photographed on some new play equipment. One of the other parents got upset because the caption referred to equipment for special needs kids. She was talking about getting some sort of retraction printed to make it clear these kids weren’t special needs???? I could NOT believe this concern and couldn’t understand it. But I have always had a chuckle that little did I know then what was around the corner 😉

    • That is another great example of the unspoken (and no doubt, unappreciated) assumption that there is shame or something horrible in the mere suggestion that a child has special needs (beyond the harsh realities of helping these children, which is not connected to shame, and is a simple truth rather than something worthy of harsh judgement).

      I think your reaction at the time – pre-knowing you were going to be a parent of a special needs child – shows that it’s not just experience with our children that makes all the difference. There’s the lack of awareness evident in that example, but there’s also the more general crappiness of the person who says such things without thinking, or thinking but not caring.

  5. betty brownlee says:

    Not surprised at all, not one iota. The many psychological and education reports that have been carried out on my young son who has ASD all at some point referred to him as being a very ‘handsome’ or ‘delightful’ or ‘good looking’ lad. It’s as if they had to make up for the fact that the had autism by putting extra weight on his appearance. Apart from the glaringly unprofessionalism in doing this, it is incredibly patronising both to me and to my child.

    I fear that the general populace is so incredibly afraid of ‘autisms’ and of not having the ‘perfect’ child as they see it – i personally dont know any ‘perfect’ children (or parents for that matter)

    Success is the best revenge and wasting time on idiots and their idiot remarks like the woman you referred to, won’t help your child one jot. That woman has probably got a mess of a life (considering her lousy attitude) so leave her to it.

    Gave up trying to change other people’s ideas about my child and about autism – all energies just solely on him now – to hell with people like that because generally they wouldnt help you if you lay lying in the street – simply not worth the effort.

    Look to the light!

    best wishes

    • Hi betty. Whilst I understand your personal stance when faced with these sorts of people, it’s not really in me to stand by and leave such ignorance and idiocy un-answered. Indeed, one of the reasons I blog is because I think I can educate and make people think; I don’t think it’s an either pointless or worthless endeavour. Maybe I’ll be more jaded (or less naive) years from now. But for now, I consider combating those sorts of comments, as part of the fight for the best future I can make for my son. I do appreciate your comment, thanks.

  6. betty brownlee says:

    It’s all about beliefs. The beliefs of the ‘karma’ woman, yours, mine, etc are the real reason such comments, often followed by actions, are made by people. Its not the womans stupid comments per se that are the problem, its what is going on inside her head to make her say such silly things in the first place.

    If you can discover peoples beliefs about things you understand that their brains have little else to go by. Changing beliefs in people requires a lot more than blogging – tackling systems that undermine what you want for your child will go a lot farther in making better a world for our kids and for us.

    Challenging the : medical model, heiarchy of disability, fear, profiteering, arrogance – all these things will make much more impact than trying to change the stupid remarks of one woman.

    Even more, challenging parents in general to get up and stand up for their children and not fall prey to believing the beliefs of others, about their own children is by far the biggest challenge.

    I am not jaded, I am however, a veteran of autism so to speak and after 10 years of organising I can tell you that I wish I had all that time back to spend with my kids because those who let me down the most were not silly women like you had the misfortune to read about – but rather parents themselves who gave up, got too tired, didnt have the self confidence or who just accepted what was told to them by others, (professionals) about their children.

    It doesnt have to be this way, but autism becomes a war of attrition for many, the weak get picked off leaving very few left to carry on the ‘war’. Unfortunately, those ‘few’ are then viewed as crazy parents, loudmouths, etc etc. Why you ask? Because in time, the majority fall away.

    If you want to fight something, tackle the fact that parents themselves are often their own worst enemies. The likes of the ‘woman’ who made the silly comments wont help you. Fighting closer to home however, is a battle you might win. You know what they say, you cant change anything from the outside. You have to be inside and as a parent, you are already inside that ‘camp’ and its a camp that you already have a free entry pass to. It’s also a camp that is divided, and needs cohesion. You sound like just the kind of person who could rally the troops to work together.

    • Sweet of you to say so betty.

      It sounds like we’re going to have to agree to disagree about much of what you say. In response to your thoughts, these two main points arise for me:

      (1) The process of changing beliefs – in parents, the public, policy-makers etc – is not done in a single forum. It is done through discussion threads, complaints, awareness raising, books, blogging, one-on-one conversations etc. I know that something like blogging and forum discussions can change views and beliefs since they have changed mine over the years, and other people have claimed I have changed theirs too. So it’s not a waste of time nor energy.

      (2) This is not a matter of either fight the fight this way or that way. At certain times of the day or of my life, one form may work best and be most accessible, at other times other ways will work best for me. Sometimes I can and do manage more than one form of fighting for change. I don’t see this as a simple zero-sum game for change.

      For now, I still have the passion to do what I can to try to achieve change for the better. In 10 years time, yes I might feel differently and have lost that passion, or have changed my focus, but for now this is what I do: Blogging, plus various other activities, including confronting misinformed views on local public forums.

  7. Sooz says:

    Another interesting aspect to the slow/bright baby bragging that goes on is that it’s not uncommon for kids with ASD’s to be developmentally off the scale with some skills while being way behind with others. 
    So many parents go crazy trying to develop their kids into ‘little Einsteins’ all the while oblivious to the neurological and social differences kids who are naturally this way have. 
    My little daughter had exceptional language development until she was about 16 months old and began to lose social communication. At 3 she is about 4years ahead of most kids musically and mathematically She seems to have been born this way, I don’t believe in drilling toddlers with academic skills. Yet I’d trade these abilities in a flash if she would start greeting people and saying ‘Mummy’ and playing with other kids. Hopefully one day she might be able to get out there and use these talents, if they keep developing, but for them to be more than a public novelty or personal talent she will need to learn to communicate and cooperate to a workable level.
     It astounds me that so many people want their kids to be exceptional as opposed to being happy, well balanced and honestly loved for who they are, whether they are talented or not.

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