Gorgeous, violent, Raging and a Very Unsweet 16. That is the title of the episode of Dr. Phil that I am currently suffering through. And I do mean suffering. This episode chronicles a family of a child that is very likely PDA/Autistic. One of the quotes from Mom was ‘It is just not worth the battle of trying to make her go to school. I give up. I give up parenting because I get attacked’. For God’s Sake Mom! Has it never occurred to you to look behind the reasons why she is acting this way? Triggering to say the least. And in this very moment, I realize why I despise ‘Dr.’ Phil. Calling the child a brat. Enforcing the reward system. Sending children to ‘camps’ or ‘rehabilitation centers’…
And yet I am torn. Because so many parents really do not get it. I know I didn’t when my boys were in school. When they were infants/toddlers I parented by instinct; I seemed to know what the boys wanted and simply got it for them. I often blamed myself for the diagnosis of Autism in the beginning. Autism was presented to me as a bad thing, something to ‘cope’ with. Was I too smothering, did I too to much instead of teaching them how to do it? Did I “cause” or “enable” their Autism? Yet the boys were happy; always smiling and if they were crying I was able to figure out why and fix it. And it felt good, and natural. But I was made to feel as though I were ‘spoiling’ them. It was not until they began their formal education that I was immersed in the ‘We have to make them normal’ lifestyle. I KNEW my boys needed more support starting in Kindergarten. But the way the supports are set up here, they MUST allow/force them to survive with the LEAST amounts of supports, and fail, before new supports are considered. Read. That. Again. Set up. To fail. HOW does that support the child??? I still cannot fathom the idea.
Fast forward to elementary school. I was going through a horrible marriage. I was struggling with a lot of personal things. I basically checked out for 2-3 years, going through the motions and basically allowing whatever the ‘professionals’ thought was best to happen. I was not entirely 100% (or even 50% present) other than ensuring basic needs were met; food, housing, hygiene. I missed out on a lot. I mean a LOT.
Towards the beginning of their middle school years I’d come around. I was able to rally. I started to question the authorities I’d been listening too, even those that claimed to be authorities on Autism. Where I had previously fallen for the bait, hook line and sinker, I was now wondering if there wasn’t a better way to advocate than endless IEP meetings? I was made to feel ashamed for wanting my children to have every accommodation possible in mainstream school. In my mind I KNEW my boys would be able to do the things they needed, in their own time. But that is not allowed in school. One must keep up. One must meet benchmarks set on chronological age and NOT by ability. To me, this is so unfair and unreasonable. (Little did I know I was Autistic at the time. I thought I was just a no-good mom).
At the end of middle school I chose what sounded like a decent solution; a ‘charter’ school that has smaller class sizes but would still honor an IEP and was free. It was what is called a “STEM” based school (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Perfect! One son is really into animals (Science) and the other is incredible at designing entire worlds in Minecraft (Engineering). Math is a HORRIBLE subject for both of them but the school convinced me they would get support to help them through it.
Second. Worst. Decision. Of my life. My boys were MISERABLE. I was slowly coming to the realization that I too thought differently, communicate differently, felt differently, than most of my peers. I had wonderful support once I actually sought out #actuallyautistic voices, websites, groups and relationships. One woman changed my life. Was my catalyst. I am wandering now or I’d go into more specifics, but suffice it to say that she changed our lives 1000% for the better when I was able to realize that I simply was not able to handle the processing skills needed to help my boys through mainstream education. Once I was able to realize that, yet still wanted the best for all our mental health, I was able to start advocating. A school was suggested, a private school, that perfectly met all our needs. Research was done, funding was secured, and the blossoming of my now teenage sons has begun. They no longer say they would ‘Rather die than go to school’. While one says he ‘still doesn’t like the IDEA of school’ but he ‘loves new school’, I am beyond thrilled. This has allowed me to allot more spoons to advocacy and learning how to advocate. I can devote more time to researching and learning from my Autistic peers. I feel joy in my heart where I once felt shame. My instincts are correct, I can understand and teach my boys how to self-advocate. Their self-esteem and awareness have increased exponentially. My boys are valued, respected and made to feel at ease in their new school. They are given increasing responsibilities (One is in charge of care of the school cats, the other in charge of the chickens) and praised at every opportunity. They feel loved and secure. I am beyond blessed.
So eff you, Dr. Phil, for not seeing the neurodivergent child inside the behaviors. Eff you for parent shaming and victim blaming. You love to tout your ‘Forensic Psychology’ expertise but where the fuck is your insight?