We need to talk about “support”.

There is a… We’ll call it a theme. There’s a theme in parenting groups in general, but most especially in parenting groups for parents of autistic children. That theme looks like this:

It looks like group descriptions that include

“This is a place for autism parents to seek support and advice.”

“This is a safe place for parents of children with autism to share their experiences.”

“This is a place for parents to reach out for support and advice for dealing with the unique challenges of having a child with autism.”

It looks like posts that include

“Some days I hate autism.”

“I just need to vent!”

“I’m just looking for support, but I’m feeling really attacked right now!”

It looks like group admins messaging autistic members who try to speak out against harmful anti-autistic comments and saying

“This is a parent support group. If we scare away parents by fighting with them, they’ll never learn to accept their children.”

“You catch more flies with honey…”

“You are being really impolite to parents who are just looking for support.”

This theme… This theme looks like headlines that read

“Overwhelmed mother attempts to decapitate autistic son with a bow saw”

It looks like news articles that contain

“Parents struggle with lack of support”

Over and over and over again.

We need to talk about “support”.

We need to talk about what it means to seek support in a group for parents of autistic children. We need to talk about what it means for murderers to blame their actions on “lack of support”.

We need to talk about what support looks like.

But first we need to talk about what toxic support looks like.

Toxic support is driving your friend to her abuser’s house because she said that’s what she wants. Toxic support is ignoring your friend’s difficulty with addiction. Toxic support is Tom Haverford and Donna Meagle “Treat yo Self”ing each other into bankruptcy.

Toxic support is allowing a parent to vent, not about how difficult it is to get other people to respect their child, not about how cruel the mainstream school system is, not about how brutal the Healthcare system is, but about their child. About autism. Toxic support is *pat pat*ing and *there there*ing and “get the wine 🍷”ing.

Toxic support is forgetting that there is a child behind that support post that has to live with the consequences of the behavior you enable.

Toxic support is putting parents first. Toxic support is prioritizing the feelings of a parent over the safety and security of a child. Toxic support is how we get Kelli Stapleton (look it up).

What does authentic support look like?

Real support looks like

“I hear how frustrated and frightened you are. Don’t loose focus on reality. Your child isn’t flawed. The system is. I wonder how X is feeling right now?”

“It seems like you’re feeling disappointed that your child isn’t what you expected. It’s hard to accept, no one prepares you for this. But we aren’t actually entitled to able bodied children. Disabled children are just as natural as any other. The only thing that’s unacceptable is how society is set up to oppress and devalue them.”

Support looks like honesty. And honestly some of yall need a kick in the pants.

Autism isn’t something your kid is doing to you. You’re not actually entitled to your safe supportive place when that support comes at the expense of your children. When you reinforce each other’s bad attitudes, you weave and reweave narratives of autism as burden, tragedy, struggle… You weave our death shrouds.

That’s the cost of your “support”.

Is it worth it?

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13 thoughts on “We need to talk about “support”.

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  1. Hmm… this is thought provoking. I get what you’re saying. My kid is now a young adult and I remember his needs and my feelings well from when he was young. I just think it’s okay to give time and space for the needs and feelings of both kids and parents – without conflating them. Did you mean to compare venting parents to murderers? (I hope I misunderstood that.) For example, I would stay up at night worrying over my kid’s suffering that day, if he might be having a hard time sleeping, if I should go check and then try tp comfort of if that felt encroaching, if I should call the school district yet again or his therapist… The vast majority of my thoughts and emotional energy were about him and his needs. (That’s his biggest complain as an adult – that I “worried too much and tried to fix too much.”) Yes, though, sometimes my feelings were actually about myself – my sadness or frustration. If a “friend” asked me in THAT moment, “How do you think your kid’s feeling?,” I would know what it meant: You selfish parent, who only thinks of your own needs. If they said, “We aren’t actually entitled to able bodied children”, then I’d know they thought that my expressing my own fatigue was perceived as “entitled.” It is not “toxic” to make space for a parent’s feelings from time to time – to do this without redirecting them to think about their kiddo at every turn, which sends a very hurtful message full of presumption. Maybe you’re only talking about some extreme parents or cases, but in my experience it is the rare mother who needs reminders to think of her differently abled child first.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This really depends. Are you venting ABOUT your child or THAT they are autistic? Or are you venting ABOUT society and THAT it is ableist? Because if your frustrations center around the innate makeup of your child’s neurology, that is a dangerous place to be.

      Kelly Stapleton is presently in prison for the attempted murder of her autistic daughter. She was a blogger. She was venting ABOUT her daughter. She was venting ABOUT autism. She was dangerous.

      Parenting is hard. Raising any child is hard. It’s reasonable to be frustrated with societal expectations for your child and for you. Our cultural narratives around parenting are pretty toxic in general.

      But venting ABOUT a (disabled) child is dangerous.

      I don’t think anyone is entitled to voice frustrations about their disabled children. A space that allows that perpetuates the normalization of stigma and disability as tragedy and burden.

      A space that allows that makes the whole world less safe for people (children and adults) like me.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I remember when three disabled children were murdered by their mother five years ago in my home town (New Malden in south-west London, England). The children were not autistic but had spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and the oldest of them was four years old. She was a wealthy banker’s wife and had a three-storey house which had been adapted for the children’s needs. A report from the local authority showed that the mother had been obstructing attempts to improve their lives such as fitting a feeding tube and performing spinal surgery. However, social media was full of expressions of sympathy from other parents and she was never charged with murder (despite premeditation), only manslaughter. It’s not only with autism that parents will sympathise with a disabled child’s murder; it’s any form of disability.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I agree with the first poster. I have a few select people I may msg and vent about my kids too, but I’m not going to do it online or in a meme or a facebook post and it makes me uncomfortable when people do. My friends and I try to laugh a lot of stuff we complain about off, we don’t compound on each other’s whine and we all have kids with differing disabilities so perhaps this is a little different. I would say I get as frustrated with my 3 other neurotypical kids as my child with disabilities.
    It’s much the same when my married friends and I get together and complain about our spouses. This doesn’t make us murderers…
    If you responded to me in the above ways, it would not help me in any way. I would walk away from you and I doubt I would reach out to you again. 99% of my day is spent meeting the (often exhausting) needs of my children and if you were my friend and caught me in the 1% of my day where I had had enough and I said something then I’d hope you were a good enough friend to know that is the 1% of my day and not hold it against me.
    Just like i feel I have no right to comment on how disabled people feel about things ,perhaps until you have parented a child with a disability, you also have no right to comment on parenting.

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    1. If you dont have a right to tell disabled people how to feel why are you doing it?

      Also. Um. Parente control so much. You ever been under the control of someone who resents you and is supported in reveling in that?

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I also am the parent of two children who are diagnosed with disabilities, parenting them takes a lot of energy – but nowhere as much energy as it takes them to manage a world that throws them sensory challenges and massive social bias. There is substantial evidence that “venting” does nothing to relieve anger or frustration, and if anything normalizes that frustration and allows it to layer. Getting into a bubble in which folks help us affirm feelings of resentment rather than compassion will make it easier for those feelings of resentment to feel appropriate and normal.

      I’m not going to pretend I never get frustrated with my kids or other folks who have positions of lesser power or privilege than I do. But I know that if I rehearse those frustrations, or allow others to rehearse them with me, they become more than transitory. And that’s where the process of alienation and even dehumanization starts.

      Please consider this documented fact about the potential of “venting” to normalize alienation rather than compassion for those you love. It took me a while to get to this point – I wish you peace in your journey.

      Liked by 2 people

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