There have been a number of newspaper articles recently about the mother who allegedly attempted to kill her child with autism and herself. Scott Shrum, Executive Director of Residential Opportunities, Inc., which operates the Great Lakes Center for Autism Treatment and Research, also wrote a Guest Column in the Kalamazoo Gazette about the impact on families that have a member with autism, or perhaps a related disability. I am familiar with similar stories of families under significant stress, as well as families whose lives have been greatly enriched because of a son or daughter or sibling with a whole variety of disabilities. None of these families are heroes, nor would they purport to be. They are usually people doing their best for their family.
In our current work the focus is on what the whole community, beyond the immediate family and the specialized services for people with disabilities can do to support the individual and the family. On a very personal level, think of a time in a grocery store when a child has made loud, objectionable noises and you immediately condemned its parent for not making the child stop. What if that mother or dad cannot make the child stop, and the child has become so overly stimulated in that environment that she cannot stop herself? And what if that parent cannot just abruptly leave without purchasing the groceries?
What might you do? Perhaps help out, though you would probably not know what to do . We all could refrain from looking at the parent and child as if they have no right to be there. Don’t judge the parent without knowing more about the child. With some effort, perhaps, we can all do that. Observe closely and try to understand the possible reasons for the child’s behavior. With some patience and practice we can do that.
We probably will never reach a stage where as a community we would fully welcome a screaming child in a grocery store, but imagine much better that parent, and perhaps that child, would feel about themselves if we let them know that the community is for them and not against them. In my conversations with parents they talk about what a difference it would make if others of us acknowledged their child and validated them, even when their behavior is different and even hard to take.