About Control

Filed Under (Activism, Behaviours, Contributions to Society) by Estee on 26-01-2011

Yesterday, The Globe and Mail published, For A Child, It’s All About Control. The premise of the study, conducted by researchers in New Zealand followed 1,000 children for more than thirty years. The findings, published in the Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences stated that “those children who demonstrated strong self control skills as early as age three were less likely to abuse drugs, and develop health problems, experience financial difficulties or be convicted of a crime.” The ability to control one’s own behaviour is an indication, therefore, of future success. I guess that makes most of us the doomed portion of the population.

I’m not just writing this because I felt like I was reading a paper in 1900, not 2011. I’m writing because I have an autistic child, where the controversy in his way of being is primarily described as behavioural — difficulties with attention, focus and impulse control. Children diagnosed with ADHD, ADD share similar impulse control “issues.”

It’s an odd time we live in. We diagnose every possible human way of being under the sun, while also being able to appreciate, paradoxcally, the creative contributions and potential of people with, as we say, “different kinds of minds.” Despite all our best efforts to use medications to control behavioural issues, the individuals we medicate are often incredibly able, talented, and have been, in fact, insanely successful. An official ADHD website proudly lists successful people with the disorder, the list including Albert Einstein. And this list. In keeping with funny little lists, here’s one that cites some successful autistic people. And another one.

Most of us have heard and read about Donald Treffert’s work in giftedness and autism, although not every autistic person possesses exeptional gifts (even though everyone is exceptional). The real issue seems not to be that the ability to exercise self-control makes us more successful, but in how we learn to work within the frameworks we’ve got. The most heralded people of our culture are the ones who are able to think out of the box; in other words, differently.

Another issue is one of pedagogy. The study insinuates, for me anyway, that all children should be alike: focussed, sitting at their desks and compliant with their teacher. A child like Adam is a sure candidate then, to be banned from schools that use these criteria as a series of prerequisites. Sure, we all have to learn the rules, but the rules also have to bend for the accommodation of individuals so that they can learn. One example is having children move throughout their day in order to think. As physical programming gets slashed and Canadians, in a recent CBC report, are getting fatter, it might be no wonder how children have difficulty concentrating. There are many different ways to learn. Most autistic chidlren need sensory stimulation throughout their day, similarly, to be able to focus.

“Self-control is a vital skill for scanning the horizon to be prepared for what might happen to you, for envisaging your own future possibilities, for planning ahead to get where you want to go, for controlling your temper when life frustrates you,” says Terrie Moffitt from Duke University, quoted in the article. Really? Can we truly plan ahead? I mean, a few years under my belt and I’ve been stimied over and over at the universal joke: that life never ends up the way we plan. Nevertheless, we’re all supposed to have a good one. While it’s not the entire point of my post here, some of the reasons cited as necessary for being in control of oneself in the study seem a little silly.

How many of us have had behavioural issues in our lifetime, or a real diagnosis effecting our ability to control our impulses? Have the researchers considered the contributions made to our society by individuals who have severe difficulties with it? How many of us might have to use many accommodations throughout our day in order to be “successful” — the very word raising many other questions on what success really means?

“You’re training people to think about long-term consequences of their behaviour,” Professor Piquero was quoted.



A (Short) Paradox of Love and Letting Go

Filed Under (Adam, Parenting) by Estee on 17-01-2011

Adam tried to pull me out the door with him in the morning. Since I returned home from vacation or after weekends apart, he tugs at my hand. He is bundled in his heavy red winter coat for the minus twenty-something temperature we’ve been having in Toronto the past couple of days. I know he has been effected by my absence. With separation and divorce, all kids and parents must traverse this similar path of custody arrangements.

So, these absences are not entirely within my control, although even married, parents do have to leave their children for work, for travel, for one circumstance or another. Adam’s Christmas vacation is split between mom and dad. While I’m not with Adam, I want to build my life. I am trying to figure out if there is a way to refine the fine art of living life and parenting. I’ve concluded that the best way I can be Adam’s parent is to remain my simple self, and including him in all of it. Sure, I have to accommodate the way in which he can be included in it, but that’s a different post.

Once in a while I get a report from his aide or teacher that he has asked for mommy while I am away. I can’t tell you the wave of love and trememdous guilt that overcomes me when I get those reports, or lately, even a short email now from my son. Then, I tell myself that this is the test of our love: that we can miss each other and always return, the universe willing. Still, for a young boy, typical or autistic, a parent’s absense must feel like the end of the world. Adam can’t tell me the depth of feeling he must have, but I can imagine it. I can remember what it felt like when I was a child and I use those memories to help me in the way I treat Adam.

“Come with me,” he says as he grabs my hand. Then the words don’t come — he simply tugs. His cherub cheeks peek from behind his ample hood with a tuft of faux fur. His eyes begin to look distressed.

“I can’t come to school with you honey,” I implore. “I will see you in a few hours.” He tugs harder, my body leaning into the warm hallway, his boot already on the icy front step; I’m afraid he will literally tumble out the door. He tugs for as long as he can before I kneel down and face him.

“I love you. I’m proud of you and I will be here when you get home,” I reassure, rubbing the sides of his down-filled arms, caressing his cheek, and then kissing his small, pouted lips.

He lets go reluctantly, dragging his knapsack behind him on the driveway and climbs into the car. I stand at the window with pangs in my stomach — to let him know I am watching. I am also jubilent at the same time, remembering how my mother did the same thing (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree). I wait in the window, like my mother did with my father and I, to let Adam know the depths of my love. I’m pretty sure he knows this innately, but still.

The car pulls away and he looks at me longingly through the backseat window. I wave thinking that this is, paradoxically, one of the best moments of our lives.

Our Monthly Flight

Filed Under (Adam, Communication) by Estee on 14-01-2011

About once a month Adam cannot sleep. It’s so regular, in fact, that I’ve come to call it our “monthly trip to Europe.” The time zone change would feel about the same.

So it was we had another one of those nights last night. It’s been a bit of a crazy week — I just returned from Costa Rica and am trying to pull myself back together. Adam also had some vacation time with me down south and then spent the rest of the time with his father. He returned to me on Monday and I was expecting him not to sleep on the first night of his return home — not the fourth.

Last night, we also played a game of I Spy. We used one of Adam’s books for this. For those of you who are not yet aware, Adam is not a fluent talker. I was quite surprised that we could play this game back and forth for about thirty minutes.

“I spy with my whittle eye something that dances,” he said in his tiny staccato voice, so soft like a whisper. While Adam has typed a few sophisticated sentences before, we’ve rarely had such interchanges, let alone ones where he’s asking me to guess the object by naming its attribute.

“Is it the ballerina?” I asked him, pointing to it.

“Ballerina, yes,” he replied.

Maybe his head was dancing for the rest of the night. Dreary eyed today, I’m still so very thrilled about the interchange.

A belated Happy New Year to everyone, by the way. I tried so hard not to blog while I was away.


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.