There is one thing I think I have never done when it comes to Geordie’s diagnosis — use it to completely and totally justify his behaviour at all times.
This is the one thing that could be our undoing in the fight for understanding.
The vast majority of the people I know who are on the spectrum, or have children on the spectrum (including those whose brilliant blogs I follow) do not do this. They are fighting for recognition and for understanding about what makes people with Autism/Asperger’s ‘tick’ — they are open and honest; they don’t seek to justify their behaviour or reactions, but to explain them in a way the rest of us ‘neurotypicals’ might be able to understand.
Then there is the very tiny minority who use a diagnosis (or even those who ‘suspect’ a diagnosis) to excuse behaviours, e.g. The child kicks his teacher — immediate response: “Oh, he did it because he has Autism.”
This is not on!
Over the years, Geordie has exhibited a whole range of behaviours — many of which I could have blown off as “it’s because he has Asperger’s”.
Some of his behaviours and reactions have been because he hasn’t been able to process and replicate the ‘social behaviour’ required, or he has gone into overload, or he has been goaded into the behaviour by someone who ‘doesn’t get it’.
These behaviours have been related to the fact he has Asperger’s — but I’ve certainly never left it at that. I see them as calling cards to action: find out why the behaviour happened; work out what we can do to help Geordie react in a more acceptable manner the next time it happens; explain it to people and work with them on it.
But — some of his behaviours are ones he has chosen. He is very clever, and I am under no illusion that sometimes he acts a certain way because he has learned that he may be able to get away with it due of his diagnosis.
The trick is to be able to tell the difference.
I don’t always succeed.
I have totally stuffed up on numerous occasions. The Asperger’s learning curve is not a singular curve, but fraught with many dips, turns and rises. This is not an excuse — I’m working on it and talking about it; this is the difference between an excuse and a reason.
There is a mighty fine line between using Asperger’s as an excuse for behaviour — and using it as a reason.
The people who use it as an excuse are not helping any of us — not only because they are perpetuating the myth of ‘we don’t have to comply because we have special needs’, but they are also not doing any favours to the child who is then denied the opportunity to learn and develop.
People who use a diagnosis as an excuse are also greatly assisting the negative attitude towards people with special needs who are seen as being able to get away with anything and taking time and resources away from ‘normal’ people.
There needs to be a greater understanding of the needs of people on the spectrum. It’s okay to explain behaviours in terms of an Autism/Asperger’s diagnosis — but the blanket approach to this is not okay, and it is not okay to roll out this excuse without following up on it.
As far as I’m concerned, being vocal about what we are doing and why — and being seen to be proactive in working together with other people to aid understanding and change — is the best path towards acceptance.