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From Inside the Puzzle: Raising a Child with Autism Blog

On Being Reactionary

Published April 5, 2012 12:25 AM by Devon Alley
My husband is always warning me against being reactionary. He knows my history. He knows my tendencies. He knows the entire chain of events that has led me through therapy and into my current Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class. He has seen my reactionary behavior in action, and he's had to bear the brunt of that behavior on more than one occasion. Just tonight, I brought home a unit from my MBSR class about the harmful health effects caused by such reactionary behavior. And I try to meditate, to breathe deeply, to reflect instead of react, to look at the world and at myself mindfully and without judgement.

But I can't help but become reactionary about some things. George Hodgins' murder (a 22 year-old autistic who was killed by his mother) was one of those things. Daniel Corby's death (a 4-year-old autistic allegedly drowned by his mother) is another.

When tragedies like these occur, I try to refrain from reacting. I attempt to hold the entire scenario in my heart with sympathy and compassion. I know I cannot fully understand the complexities surrounding a situation I only get sound bytes of in the news, from other blogs, or over Twitter. I wonder if the prevalence of undiagnosed mental and mood disorders throughout our society might have something to do with it -- we have, as a culture, forgotten how to take care of our basic mental and emotional health, which is precisely why thirty-somethings like me have to spend time and energy on therapy sessions and stress-reduction classes in order to remember the basics of self-care. Life is hard for everybody I know, and for every parent I know. It's like that quote that is often attributed to Plato: "Be kind, for everyone you  meet is fighting a hard battle."

But, see, that's the thing. Everyone is fighting a hard battle, and very, very few of those people become so overwhelmed by that battle that they resort to murder. Even fewer of those people resort to killing their own children. It's like what Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg says in her blog entry This is What You Get: "In having a child, you make a commitment that, even if you end up in the worst extremity, you’ll protect the child’s life. That’s a basic, sacred trust." I can't help but feel angry at parents who break that trust, and I can't help but be reactionary against media coverage that seems to try and justify the breaking of that trust. Brenda Rothman has done a great job of outlining this sort of media coverage in her blog entry Perpetuating the Stereotype: Autism, Parenting, & Murder, as well as explaining exactly why this sort of rhetoric is harmful to the autism community as a whole.

Mostly, however, I can't help but become reactionary when my 12-year-old autistic daughter asks me about these murders, and then says, in a quiet voice, "You would never do anything like that to me, would you?"

It breaks my heart that my amazing, awesome, beautiful daughter feels like anyone would *ever* want to hurt her just because she's autistic. It makes me sad that so many of my autistic Internet friends feel as if their very personhood is being devalued right now. I wish we did not live in a world where these things happen. I wish we lived in a world where we didn't have to struggle so much for simple autism awareness, not to mention real and complete autism acceptance.

It may seem like I paint my world as all sunshine and daisies in this blog, but trust me -- I'm no stranger to feeling overwhelmed as a parent. After all, I was twenty years old, unmarried, and absolutely clueless when my daughter was born. I spent a decade as a single mother, and the greater part of that decade living at or below the poverty line. We went through several interventions and therapies, and I spent hours each day on the floor with my daughter, reenacting and mimicking what I watched the therapists do with her. We struggled to build communication, speech, and social skills despite severe developmental delays. We worked through tantrums, sensory problems, behavior issues, dietary issues, late potty-training, bedwetting, random-waking-up-and-wandering-the-house-in-the-middle-of-the-night. In addition to all this, I have spent years seeing therapists for my own generalized anxiety disorder, abandonment issues, and a hodgepodge of other emotional problems that really had nothing to do with my daughter at all, other than I feared those problems negatively impacted my parenting skills. And honestly, I'm still not convinced I really know what I'm doing.

What I do know, however, is that despite all of the hard work and hardships, I have delighted in every single moment of my daughter's life. What I do know is that I am absolutely blessed to have a daughter like A., and I am so very proud of her every single minute of every single day. What I do know is that, no matter who you are, and no matter how hard it gets, that's never an excuse to break the "sacred trust" that a child has in his parent. Our kids need our love, protection, understanding, and acceptance. They need us to uplift them, defend them, advocate for them, and help them learn how to best advocate for themselves.

And, every once in a while, they need us to be reactionary for their sake, so that they can feel safe, protected, and loved in a world that is often too full of tragedy and sorrow.


There has been a great deal of conversation in the autism online community lately about the concept of

April 10, 2012 12:38 PM

Yes, you're right.  They need to know that we hold their lives precious and valuable just because.  Beautiful.

Brenda (mamabegood) April 5, 2012 10:02 AM

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