In the early days of my son’s diagnosis I felt a compulsion to read as much as possible about autism. It helped and I learnt a lot but after a while I grew tired of reading the academic explanations of autism and turned to reading accounts written by those who had the condition. These provided much more interesting, holistic and human accounts of what it was like to be autistic. I learnt more from them than the academic books which I found to be rather soulless. Nevertheless in time I even stopped reading them. Life was busy, I had no time and in any case I was learning about autism through my daily interactions with my son (and more recently my daughter). I learnt from them, what they liked, what they didn’t, what things upset them, what made them happy. When things became difficult we worked at finding a solution; we learnt to become flexible and creative and to try different approaches. Sometimes we took advice but most of the times that advice was useless, a regurgitated piece from a text book that had little relevance to the boy or girl sitting next to me. I realised then that knowledge about my children came from being with them and that reading from a book (whilst interesting) didn’t have all the answers.
Unfortunately I have met a number of people who don’t appreciate how much you learn as a parent of autistic children. They appear not to value the knowledge gained within the family and the immense amount of support we give to our loved ones. Instead they seem to think that reading a book or attending a course gives them superiority over people like me. It is an infuriating attitude that came to haunt me the other day when someone from the local authority called round. She has a new job to do with children out of education and called me a few days ago to arrange to see me and my son. (It is important to note that my son is in school but our plan to build up his hours has been faltered by the school telling us that they can’t meet need. It’s a complicated situation which we’re trying to sort out.) Anyhow, back to the story. I invited her in and she sat down and almost immediately she launched into a narrative about her career and how much she knew about all things related to autism. She gave me no opportunity to contribute and to ‘share’ ideas and even discounted the report I had produced detailing the educational history of my son. She apparently did not want to lose objectivity of the case.
At this point, I started to feel threatened. If she didn’t want to work with me or even listen to me, what was the real reason for her visit? Did she think I was harming my child in quiet? Did she think I was deliberately keeping my son out of school? Whatever the reason for her visit I was alarmed by her aggressive and arrogant manner. Nevertheless I did my best to cooperate and tried to encourage my son to come downstairs and talk with her. Surprise, surprise he wouldn’t cooperate and remained in his bedroom! As I explained to her, my son is not comfortable with strangers in our home and that it would take many visits for him to feel able to talk with her. She commented that she would return and with that our meeting ended and she left.
I then went back in the house and met my son coming down the stairs. He told me that he would not be speaking to that nasty woman. (Apparently after I had a chat with him he left his bedroom and plonked himself on the stairs ready to go to school. As a result he could hear much of the conversation!) I couldn’t resist an inward chuckle. For all her self-proclaimed expertise she didn’t have a clue about my son’s supersonic hearing and his innate ability to work out whether someone was a friend or foe. This woman was clearly foe.