BY Hannah Miles
With the April weather taking a turn for the worse, I have been forced to sit indoors more than usual, which has left me catching snippets of daytime TV that I would otherwise avoid. Today’s topic of discussion was “IS IT HARDER TO LOVE AN AUTISTIC CHILD?” This caught me completely off-guard. Luckily for me, I have an autistic child who at that point distracted me with a game of “Squeeze!”, where I hug him so tight, it makes him squeal with delight – which of course makes me do it over and over again! At lunchtime, I happily packed him off to nursery and free of distractions, began to dwell on that question which had been thrust into my head. “Is it harder to love an autistic child?”
The reasoning behind them posing this question was that with the lack of communication and the inability to empathise, it was difficult to gain any enjoyment out of an autistic child. I started to feel angry that someone even dared to ask this question. Would they ask the same of a child with cancer, Down’s Syndrome, brain damage? I suspect that no one would ask parents of children with any other condition if they found it “harder” to love their child. So why is it acceptable with autism? Getting het up about it doesn’t make a difference to the people on daytime TV. That’s exactly the response they need. They deliberately stir up emotion to get people talking about their show. That’s fine, their shows need the publicity, but so do mothers of children with special needs.
Instead of staying angry about the question being posed, I can tell people precisely why it is no harder to love my autistic son than it is to love my other 2 neuro-typical children. It is simple; he is my son. When my babies were born, all 3 times, I knew that I loved them and even when they were driving me crazy with crying, colic, teething, bickering, tantrums, etc. I still loved them and I always will, unconditionally.
It seems somewhat lazy, however, to simply answer that shocking question with the unconditional love response. It doesn’t help anyone to understand. I have lots of reasons why I love my son, autism and all, and why I find it so easy to do. Thurston is 3 (almost 4 years old) and has very little in the way of speech. In addition to his autism, he has a severe Speech & Language Disorder. Having given up my job to look after him full-time, I have come to understand his every need and request, sometimes just by the look on his face. I love that we are in a secret club, where often no one else will be able to break into our bubble because they simply don’t know the rules. With my other children, they were very transient. One day they might want to hang out with their Dad for hours listening to rock music, another time they might want to run along the beach with their friends. In a selfish way, I like how ‘needed’ I feel when I am around Thurston. I know that whatever happens, he will always find comfort in me.
Another reason it is easy to love him is how much laughter he brings into our family. He does the things you wish you could, but you know you’d never get away with! I love how I get to live vicariously through him. If someone is standing too close to him in a restaurant, he will slap them away. If someone sits in front of him at a school play, he will give them a kick! If people are visiting that he doesn’t want to talk to, he asks for a DVD and lays out on the sofa. If people ask him for a kiss but he’s not in the mood, he says “nope!” and runs away! I might get embarrassed at the time, but I always look back on these moments chuckling to myself with just a pang of jealousy that he can get away with being so socially unaware!
Although at first I was horrified to hear that people thought it might be harder to love an autistic child, I am buoyed by the discovery that when I’ve given it some proper thought, it turns out it’s actually easier. I could burst with pride talking about my son, it’s just that instead of it being about his performance in the school choir, it is because he yelled “go away” at a man approaching us in the High Street trying to do a survey!