Just because he’s laughing….

Filed Under (Adam, Discrimination, Family) by Estee on 16-12-2009

All of us have encountered ongoing misunderstandings about our autistic children. Adam, going through something at the moment, could also very well be going through stress. Perhaps delayed, perhaps not, what really worries me is the assumption that just because he appears happy, that he must be happy and as such, because of his autism he is neither affected by nor registers the new people in his life and the separation itself. To borrow a recent post by A Life Less Ordinary, Emily writes of this regarding the autistic child and school and it resonated with me in these days of Adam’s apparent stress levels:

–An autistic child can often be”low arousal” in certain ways. That means that even a brutal and ill-intended pummeling may not elicit a visible or detectable response. Never assume that such behavior is being taken in good part just because the autistic child isn’t crying or complaining about it.

–An autistic child may not tell an adult about physical and emotional bullying unless they are very close to and comfortable with that adult.

–An autistic child may not respond to repeated insults until some unclear breaking point is reached. The autistic child may then respond. Just because the autistic child made no previous mention of the bullying doesn’t somehow make the bullying OK or negate the fact that the child’s response was provoked.

–An autistic child may not express the emotion you expect. An autistic child in great pain–emotional or physical–may smile or even laugh right through it. I can assure you that the laughter does not mean the autistic child is actually having a good time.

–An autistic child does not express himself or herself the way a neurotypical child or adult might. Try not to judge an autistic child’s facial or emotional expressions through a neurotypical filter or from a neurotypical viewpoint. You’ll never have the correct understanding of the autistic child if you do.

–An autistic child may look like s/he is having a great time. If that child is, however, in the midst of a scrum of running, pushing, verbally sparring children, that child likely has no idea what is really going on. And that child is also likely a target of under-the-radar bullying that you’ll never hear about.

–An autistic child in an unstructured, chaotic social situation is a child who is likely completely at sea and who is likely the target of bullying, both subtle and overt, both physical and emotional. Don’t ever lapse into thinking otherwise.

–An autistic child in the midst of more than a couple of neurotypical peers in an unstructured situation is never fully armed, never as completely socially able, never truly interacting on a level playing field as the neurotypical peers. Never.

To assume otherwise is not to understand the autistic child.

Like everyone, Adam responds well to a good vacation and in addition to some upcoming necessary tests, I’m glad he will have one soon and hope for a resolution so that I really know what I’m dealing with. He appears to be doing well in school, and accompanied by an aide, I am assured he is not being bullied. Yet I also wonder how he views himself now that he is maturing, next to his “typical” peers and indeed, we are in a completely new phase of our lives.

So a vacation is needed and mom needs to think. Unlike previous years, he will first go with his dad and then be rejoined with his mom in Florida.  I am definitely concerned as his mom with all the transitions he has had to endure (as an autistic person they are far more stressful than for an average child) and the assumption that this separation has not effected him deeply, even though as parents, we are doing the best we can.


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About Me


I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (www.taaproject.com), and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.