Can you say that with your mouth closed, please?
-Brooke (whenever she is tired of hearing what you have to say)
It feels like a lifetime ago. We were new to the world of autism. Brooke had just recently been diagnosed and both Jess and I were reeling.
We didn’t know jack shit.
We began to work with a professional, a person with advanced degrees, years in the field and promising advice. Some of what this person advised us to do helped make life easier, easier for Brooke, for Katie, for both Jess and me. The advice was delivered with the authority of someone “who knew”. There was never any doubt about whether the advice was right or wrong.
Looking back, I realize that I saw what stuck, ignoring what didn’t.
A couple of years later, this professional welcomed his/her own baby into the world. Two or three years after that, the baby would be diagnosed with autism. The professional with all the right answers was completely lost. The advice so authoritatively given, suddenly didn’t seem to work or make sense.
To the credit of the professional, he/she admitted as much.
I tell this story not to put down the professional that had worked with Brooke so many years ago.
No, the professional always had the best intentions for Brooke at heart.
And by no means am I advising any of you who are parents of autistic children to ignore the advice of the experts and professionals you may have surrounded you and your family with.
The reason I tell this story is because too often I see advice given to parents, whether via the blogosphere, Facebook, Twitter or whatever, by folks who don’t…have…kids.
Your child won’t eat A, B or C? Just do this.
Your kid does yadda yadda yadda in public? Obviously you aren’t doing this simple thing.
Your teen is misbehaving? Just say this.
Your child isn’t active? All you have to do is be a good model.
You kid is overweight? Just help him make better choices.
I’m sorry, but if you don’t have kids, you can give advice until you are blue in the face, and I really don’t care if you have a bunch of advanced degrees from a bunch of Ivy League Schools or whether you’ve got an AA from an unaccredited Bible School or whether you worked as a nanny for a number of years, you just…don’t…know.
The only exception to this, and this is important, is if you have lived through or with the particular subject you are talking about. Case in point, autistic adults have every right to talk about what worked and what didn’t work for them as children. Extremely Tall or short people can talk about what it was like growing up in a house that may not have made every day activities easily accessible.
Here’s some advice if you aren’t a parent or do not share the fundamental trait of the child and topic in question, and you have some great pearl of wisdom for those of us struggling with our parenthood:
Go ahead and say it…just do it the way Brooke will sometimes advise me on how to tell her something – Can you say that with your mouth closed, please?
***One last thing – Jess was nice enough to post this on her blog and I received a comment from a teacher essentially saying, “hey! what about us?”
I felt terrible. We have been blessed with some fantastic educators on Brooke’s team throughout the years, whose advice has been vital to not only Brooke’s progress but our family’s as well. What I failed to convey in this post is that it is directed more toward the “sanctimony that we often encounter out there. The, “all you have to do is this, and that will stop,” followed by righteous indignation when one suggests that perhaps it’s a little bit more complicated than that.” (Jess). If you are a childless teacher who “gets it”, please know that this was not, and will never be, directed toward you. As a former teacher and the son and son-in-law of educators, I know how hard you work, how much you care, and how much you mean to families like mine.