Autism: who sets the bar?

Roselle Jerome-Dalton

One person dies in the United States every thirteen minutes in a car accident and about fifty percent of marriages end in divorce every year. Engaging in these risky endeavors can enhance a person’s life; but they are absolutely not what parents of typical young adults describe as defining accomplishments for their children. Yet when people learn that I have a 23 year old daughter with ASD, the very first question they almost always ask is, “Can she drive?” This is usually followed up by the ever popular, “Will she ever be able to get married?” After being asked these questions more times than I care to remember, what was once an irritating chat is now an upsetting realization about how people view our children’s potential.

In view of the fact that I keep hitting my head on the bar, which is hanging incredibly low over my daughter’s head and now mine… I want to know who to blame for this. Is it our teachers, physicians, therapists, social workers, neighbors…or…Do I have only myself to blame?

After more than twenty years of advocating for my daughter, I have learned that if I don’t believe in her, nobody else will. As a child she was academically able, but her degree of dependency with simple everyday life made her achievements feel more like failures. Maneuvering in the community required a plan of attack, manipulating and being in command of her environment at all times. I did my best to keep her atmosphere as trouble-free as possible so that she would appear appropriate in public.

The world constantly reminds us that as parents, we are responsible for our children’s behaviors. The stress and anxiety that is felt by parents, of children who are on the spectrum, is overwhelming and often crushing. We are compelled to do our very best to make our children conform and do the accepted thing. As a result, we are unyielding, continuously trying to squeeze our unconventional square pegs into society’s ordinary round holes. How does a parent begin to allow themselves to have a positive outlook on their child with all this pressure and fear hanging over their head? You will do anything and everything not to have your child fail, so instinctively, you set that bar as low as you can. After all, you will not be “too disappointed” if you do not expect “too much.”

It is in our nature to protect our children beyond all else, but we inherently need to protect ourselves from any unrealized hopes. We are by now, scared out of our minds, worrying about what will happen to our children when they grow up. Will they be able to meet the mainstream community’s requirements? Will they be considered “normal”? We would never allow ourselves to dream, not for even just one minute, that our atypical children could be thought of as exceptional or amazing.

Truth be told, autistic-spectrum disorders do improve with age. With that said, there are naturally many new challenges that our children face once they enter the adult world. This requires them to learn new age appropriate life skills and social skills; and as of now, the opportunities available to learn and practice these new skills are basically nonexistent. Obviously, if the opportunities for growth are not available, the bar will never be lifted.

The reality is that young adults with ASD have a multitude of untapped abilities. They can absolutely achieve so much more than we give them credit for. They often have incredible strengths in areas that typical young adults do not. Unfortunately, we are conditioned to concentrate on our children’s weaknesses instead of their strengths and distinctive qualities.

If we can work through our fears and let our children’s talents and abilities be allowed to flourish, their potential can and will be limitless. Parents have been made to feel that the most we can expect is for our children to be commonplace. We must enable our children to exceed beyond our expectations in order for the world to see past their differences. Individuals with ASD are definitely not run of the mill…they were born to be EXTRAORDINARY!

Courtesy Spectrum Publications

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