Wednesday, January 21, 2009

When you expect the very least

Let me just saw from the beginning here that I have historically found the autism blog at to be worth reading. However, as of late, Lisa Jo Rudy seems to going down, how shall we say it, a depressing path that seems to be leading up to giving up, or "acceptance" as some groups would call it. Consider this recent string of posts:

Do we expect too much from our autistic kids?
Amazingly, I saw no concern on the part of their parents that these kids were not making eye contact. No one seemed to care that they were not conversing. There was no expectation that they'd make their own beds or meals - or even speak on their own behalf to a clerk or waitress.

Yet children in autism support classes are expected, from a very young age, to make eye contact and learn to converse with their elders in a polite and civil manner. An autistic child caught playing on his own with a Gameboy is immediately pulled away from the activity and engaged in a social interaction. Children with autism are expected and taught to make eye contact, manage daily self-help activities, and generally participate in the adult world in a manner rarely dreamed of by typical children.


Bottom line - do we expect too much from our children with autism? My sense is - in many cases - the answer is a resounding "yes!"

So we are to believe that we are pushing our children too hard to learn the skills that they lack. That "normal" children don't do the behaviors that we push our children with autism to do.

The problem is here is that these skills that are mentioned such as eye contact, self help skills and participating in an adult world - these are skills that "normal" children will pick up on their own with just a little coaching. Many children with autism simply won't learn these skills without help.

Is independent living over-rated?
I'm also finding myself increasing frustrated by the realization that the expectations placed on adults with autism (and, in fact, all adults) are, to a very large degree, the invention of the past 60 years of cultural evolution.

In short, when it comes to adults with autism (or to families in general, really) - is independent living over-rated?

This one leaves me flabbergasted. Being able to live on your own is the invention of the past 60 years and it is over-rated to hope that your children will be to take care of themselves? What happens when you are no longer around or are unable to take care of your children?

Is it really possible to teach "social skills?"
As parents of children with autism (or awkwardness, shyness, a preference for solitude, or a desire for uniqueness), how much can - or should - we press our children to learn skills that are, by their very nature, almost unteachable? If we press our children to participate in complex, subtle relationships when they're neither ready nor willing - are we doing them a favor?

Once we've taught the social life skills and the basic social graces of etiquette - have we done enough?

And we should only try to teach the basic social skills and not try for the harder skills? If your child were "normal" would you stop trying?

So, to summarize, we are expecting too much for our children for them to try and help them learn basic interpersonal skills, we shouldn't expect them to be able to live on their own, and if we somehow manage to teach them to the basics of social skills, you ask yourself "have we done enough".

I think the answer is very simple. Autism is very profound disorder which by its very nature puts your children at a huge disadvantage relative to other children. Your job as a parent to teach them and help them as much as possible so they can become the best person they can be regardless of the issues like autism that they have to deal with.

You teach them so that when they are in a restaurant and a waitress hands them a plate, they know to take the plate. Your "normal" child might not take the plate but at least they understand that is what is requested of them.

You teach them so that when they are older they will have a chance to be able to support themselves, live indepenantly, and take care of themselves. Most "normal" children will be able to do this.

You teach them so that they will have a chance to form meaningful relationships with other people and have a chance to get married and have a family of their own someday - assuming that is what they want to do. "Normal" kids do it all of the time.

You do not stop trying to help your children.


  1. howdy.

    just for the record, of COURSE we teach our kids (typical or not) basic life skills! our son with autism explores art museums, plays the clarinet, volunteers in a nature center, and plays on a bowling league. Tonight, he volunteered to help a reptile handler at a live animal show!

    but I've gotta tell you - whenever I ask parents on my blog to say something positive about their child with autism, all I get is silence. I've been trying, over and over, to get parents to send even a couple of lines in the way of a Valentine to their child with autism - and I've received six over three months.

    I have over a dozen articles on my site about "Top Traits of People with Autism," "Why Autistic Traits May Help with Careers," "Thanks to Children with Autism," and many more - and they're among the LEAST read articles on my site.

    Overall, I really don't think I'm among the more negative parents out there! But cheerleading is tough when the crowd wants to do nothing but fight with one another over the causes and cures...

    The truth is, I don't support the "anything and everything" approach to autism treatment. I do support the idea that every child deserves a chance to enjoy life and pursue his interests and passions.


    Lisa Rudy (

  2. Lisa,

    I think the problem with the approach that you take is that you try to get them to say something positive about their autistic child instead of something positive about their child who happens to have autism.

    Most parents are more than willing to celebrate their children but when you focus on the autism side of the equation you will bring out the negative feelings that the disorder has.

    So maybe try this, write an article asking for good things that the child has done in spite of having autism, not what they have done with autism. Your example of volunteering to help a reptile handler might be a good start.

    Just my 2 cents worth.

    And thanks for reading.