I spend a lot of time on the interwebs hanging around in autism parenting groups and fielding questions from parent of autistic kids. I’ve found it so rewarding to do my best to explain things and give my experience to help people. I generally try to stay in the communities where things are positive, and parents aren’t obsessed with making their kids non-autistic or think their children are nothing but burdens. However, even in these generally “good” spaces, there’s a statement I keep seeing that is really bothering me: “My child will never XYZ.”
I see it a lot. “My son will never drive.” “My daughter will never get married.” “My kid will never have a job.” “My child will never go to college.” Often times it’s said in a rather neutral fashion as if they were just stating a fact, it’s not done in a mean way or to trash their child. But it’s very very disheartening, because the word never is very final, and when people say this they reveal that they have incredibly low expectations for their child.
I want to ask every parent who has ever said this “how do you know?” That’s a serious question, how do you know that your child will never do something? Never is a very long time, and I assure you that, like any people, autistic people continue to develop throughout our lives. We aren’t stagnant. That’s why it’s especially sad to hear people making “never” statements about their children who are only two or three years old, because I can assure you that those kids aren’t going to be anything close to what they were like when they were two or three. How can you possibly say that they will never be able to do something. It’s impossible to predict, as I assume that none of these parents have a crystal ball with which they can see their child’s future. Even people who talk about their older or their adult children can be mistaken in this way. I know of people who couldn’t drive when they were eighteen, but got their license at thirty. They just needed more time to develop or be at the right place in their lives. And there are a lot of people who had “never” statements made about them that are now doing the things their parents swore they would never be able to do.
People will probably counter this by saying something like “well, I’m just being realistic in recognizing their disabilities.” But the thing is, you’re really not. There are many autistic people who do the things you’re describing, and I’d bet that they were just like your child when they were their age. So how can you know that they will never ever do those things? It’s just as unrealistic to say that your child will never do something as it is say that they will for sure do something. Now, might your child never actually do that something? Oh, sure. They may never. But why should we assume this to begin with? A realistic expectation is not “my child will never,” it’s, “my child may or may not ever be able to attend a college, but just in case I’m going to fight to make sure that they receive a good high school education with all the same opportunities as their peers.” Or it’s “my eighteen-year-old still can’t handle driving a car, so we’re going to make sure they know how to use public transit in case they don’t drive, but I’m not going to make the assumption that they’ll never drive.” Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with someone who can’t drive a car or didn’t go to college, but it’s imperative that these assumptions are not made as to not close potential opportunities.
If you’ve decided “my child will never…” you will inevitably begin, even if subconsciously and accidentally, closing (figurative) doors for your child, and that never statement may become a self-fulfilling prophecy as a result. You never know until you try, yet many parents are so stuck up in the “never” that they never try. Plus, your child may very will pick up on the low expectations you have, and may begin lowering expectations for themselves, which may prevent further development.
I think all this comes from the fact that we live in a culture that has very low expectations for disabled people, and especially developmentally disabled people. Autism especially seems to attract a lot of “doom and gloom” attention itself. However, we’re often a lot more capable than people think we are, and just a little bit of accommodation and understanding can go a long way. I think we can start to raise these expectations by not always jumping to the “my child will never” conclusion. It’s not super rational, and can even be harmful.
I’m lucky in the sense that I have parents who never fell for the “my son will never” mindset. Right now I’m at about the best time I’ve yet had in my life. But it was not always this way. One thing that’s really important to me is making sure that people understand that I’m not some “shiny autistic” who isn’t that affected by autism and doesn’t have any challenges or disabilities. I am doing pretty amazing things right now, but it wasn’t always this way. A few years back, my parents easily could have said “Quincy will never write a blog,” or even “Quincy will never be able to successfully attend school,” and some may have even found those statements reasonable. Yet my parents never really bought into this, and they kept believing in me even when there were many struggles and we weren’t sure where we were going to go next and how to get there. I don’t mean to brag about myself too much, I promise that’s not the intent, but this presumption of competence is something that has been super important for my personal development.
Though I am not a parent (I’m only 17 at time of writing), I understand that parents always want the best for their kids, and I understand that it’s important to have realistic expectations. But “my child will never XYZ” is not a realistic or helpful statement. Have faith that your child may be able to achieve much more than you could ever imagine, and by doing this the possibility of such may very well present itself.
12 thoughts on “Never say Never”
I love this!!! It is what I tell parents where I work. Their autistic childs potential is endless. Just like every other human being on this earth. Who is to say who goes where and why? Nobody knows – and that’s a very very very beautiful thing 🙂
THANK YOU, Quincy! I’m gonna translate this into Danish and send it to my co-workers.
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This is great! Thanks so much for your post! I could not agree more!
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“That’s why it’s especially sad to hear people making “never” statements about their children who are only two or three years old, because I can assure you that those kids aren’t going to be anything close to what they were like when they were two or three.”
What I hope for these two and three year olds is that they remain and retain their core selves – the selves their parents loved and expected from right before and when they were born.
And of course the selves they themselves see and want to be.
That is the way they will grow up.
The parents, too, will grow up – less fearful of the different and unexpected.
Two parents who are doing this are Logan’s Mum from My Crazy Autism Land and G’s Mum the Full Spectrum Mama.
And Jess Wilson has said: “And never is a load of crap”.
On the other hand; never can be freeing and liberating.
Some of the nevers which are applied to typically developed children of this age – “My child will never throw tantrums” or “My child will never embarrass me” – now you can see how unrealistic and unhelpful that would be because that is denying someone’s developmental reality and potential in the same way.
“Right now I’m at about the best time I’ve yet had in my life. But it was not always this way.”
Yay Quincy! I hope people are enjoying that right along with you.
Donald Triplett – “Autism’s First Elder” – just turned 86. If people said “Donald will never travel” or “Donald will never play golf” or “Donald will never flick rubber bands at his girlfriends” or “Donald will never study maths or French”
– we wouldn’t have the Donald we have today, would we now?
I loved reading this! You are so right! In terms of autism, people so often forget that “slow/atypical development” doesn’t mean “no development ever.”
Last year, I thought I would never be able to drive. I had evidence for this claim too: my anxiety levels and my processing speed weren’t exactly optimal. My parents could have easily said “Luna just won’t be able to do it,” and they could have presented some convincing evidence too.
But they didn’t. They said “maybe you’ll be ready soon.” They had me evaluated and encouraged me to try. Last weekend I drove on the freeway.
I also wrote about this, in case you are curious: https://misslunarose.home.blog/2019/06/27/autism-false-prophecies-doom/ I like to link to further reading in my essays, so I updated mine to link to yours. 🙂
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Go Luna Go!
Yes, a lot of us do drive on the freeway.
And there is evidence, too, that many autistic drivers are safer drivers and more cautious drivers [yes, this is probably to do with anxiety – but also to do with public and community spirit].
When you said “not exactly optimal” – you might have thought about whether they were “within tolerances” / “within normal range”.
If anxiety levels and processing speed cause actual danger on the road …
these are things we can know by trying.
Evaluation and encouragement are important in this context; as well as belief.
This will be a big – or small – encouragement to families to use evaluation wisely and for targeted work as well as for baseline knowledge.
And “slow development” would again fit in with “within normal range”.
“Atypical development” – as I remember reading a Denver University dissertation this week – is another cat/kettle of fish altogether.
And the whole “maybe you’ll be ready soon” – did they notice a threshold or a change that you didn’t? Did you measure your anxiety levels and processing speed and find a way/strategy to work with them on the road and off it?
Good to see the update to Quincy’s work.
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It’s subjective, so it’s hard to say… In the past, my parents have overestimated my abilities, especially before my diagnosis. I worried that they were overestimating me and they thought that my anxiety was causing me to underestimate myself. Where the reality was is hard to say.
My dad tried to teach me to drive several times before I was ready, and I ended up getting overwhelmed and panicked. This led to incidents such as me running over the curb because there were too many cars moving in too many directions and I became overwhelmed. So I guess by “suboptimal” I was meaning “safety hazard.” I was not developmentally ready to do any meaningful driving at age 18, and it wasn’t safe to try.
After several frightening incidents that proved I wasn’t ready for the road, I assumed I would never be ready. But it turned out that I was just too young. Now that I’m older, my brain is powerful enough to handle busy streets, and I will likely get my license by age 24.
My thoughts are that some other people might give up like I did. I want them to know that just because something isn’t realistic now doesn’t mean it will always be that way. It might be worth trying again in 6 months, or a year, or 5 years even. Because autistics become more capable with age, just like non-autistics do. 🙂
Tonight I drove on the freeway. I did not feel scared and my dad said multiple times that I was doing a great job. Last year I thought that would never be possible. I’m happy I was wrong.
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now I understand what was going on in the second paragraph.
People do become more capable with age – regardless of neurotype [even if they have a degenerative or progressive illness – like young Ace who is 7 and whose Uncle is raising money for his bike during a Marathon].
That was a great drive tonight – building confidence.
Always good to be happy when you’re wrong – or happy you were wrong.
That was understood.
And that whole “just too young” thing – much better understood than in the Decade of the Brain [1990-2000].
We started to get a *lot* about teenage and young adult brains and how they grow and diverge.
In my late teens and early 20s my balance and fatigue levels started to change a lot. [Quincy and those who are currently in their teens may or may not be able to foresee this].
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If it’s okay, may I ask how your balance and fatigue levels changed?
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