In his blog, Lost and Tired: Confessions of a Depressed Autism Dad (http://bit.ly/18Yafgc), a father recently wrote about why he believes it’s important for him to hold his boys—all three of whom are on the autism spectrum—accountable for their actions. Justly referring only to behavior he knows the boys can control, the dad explained that having autism shouldn’t mean his boys get a free pass when it comes to abiding by the rules that help keep our families and schools and communities intact and civil.
I agree strongly with this father, and wish more parents would recognize the value for kids in being held accountable for the choices they make, no matter what their handicap. Too often, these kids—as well as those without any recognizable handicaps—are given the bye because it’s mistakenly assumed they can’t control themselves, or because one or both parents feel they’ve been through enough extra hardship. Rather than burden their child with a standard of behavior and level of responsibility they believe will be stressful, these parents choose instead to lower the bar, and make the kinds of accommodations that indeed alleviate stress but offer no opportunity for the child to build the skills he or she will need to function outside of the home.
Problems can develop inside the home, too, though. I remember listening to sixteen-year-old “Roxanne,” a client of mine, talk about her younger brother, “Eric.” Eric had Asperger’s. This girl loved her brother dearly, but had grown to resent him as well. Eric was intrusive and demanding at home, and had grown accustomed to the kid glove treatment he received from his parents. They had made a habit of accommodating the discomfort and anxiety Eric typically experienced when asked to compromise or try something new by asking him to do only the things he felt comfortable doing. That’s how the family wound up eating at the same two restaurants for years. Over time, these accommodations had less to do with his Asperger’s and more to do with his expectations, and his parents’ wishes to avoid a tantrum-filled afternoon. Roxanne tried to tell her parents that Eric’s biggest liability wasn’t his Asperger’s; it was that he wasn’t pleasant to be around. But they couldn’t hear her yet, and assumed that she was just jealous of the additional attention he got.
Everyone loses when over-accommodation is mistaken for compassion. There is nothing unkind about holding children with disabilities accountable for behavior over which they have control, and for its impact on the people around them. I actually think of it as an act of respect, and the antithesis of patronization. You recognize together with your child, collaboratively, that certain things will always be harder for him or her, and some may prove impossible. At the same time, you help your child adapt to a larger world that will treat and evaluate her by the same measures used for everyone else. You can clamor all you want for a level playing field, but there is no such beast. Don’t let disillusionment blind-side your kid just as he or she is stepping out and exploring life as a young adult; there’s already plenty loaded onto that plate.