While our daughter is high-functioning, we have shared some of the anxieties Dr. Clouthier recounts:
I held him close as he sobbed and screamed. The stewardess came by but did not force me to put him into a seat. She could have. Instead, she came over and asked what could be done. I said, nothing, I’ll just hold him and I did. I essentially nearly had my biceps ripped out holding him close so he couldn’t escape. He sobbed himself to sleep and was a zombie the entire family reunion visit. He had retreated into some remote place. I was deeply distressed about forcing him through the return flight. The return trip was a bit better, but he sat in my lap again.
We didn’t take him on a plane trip again for years. And when we decided to try again, we were very worried. And he cried and shook and leaned into us, but he was okay, he stayed buckled in his seat, and by this time we could explain what was happening. He still grabs his sister’s hand on plane trips, but he can do it.
And the fears that parents of autistic children have:
Down here, in Texas, many churches are starting to do outreach for parents because government resources are non-existent. So, there are “date nights” sponsored by the “Special Needs” ministry. Parents also worry non-stop about leaving their child with anyone else for a variety of reasons. First, the child might react unpredictably. Second, the child cannot communicate. Do this search: autistic child + assault. You’ll get the few, bizarre cases of the child assaulting someone. More likely, you’ll get horrifying cases of the autistic child being assaulted. Why? They are the perfect victims; they can’t speak. . . .
The safety of everyone, autistic or not, is paramount. First, do no harm. After that, though, what should be done? Right now, parents soldier on alone, but these children, all grown up, will be society’s problem. Parents lament about their child’s care after they die. What will be done? I shudder to think of these children, the perfect victims, being housed in institutions with the mentally ill abusers. It already happens in early intervention: “at risk” children (code for the emotionally damaged aggressive, future-bullies-of-America, eventual prison inmates) are placed in the same classroom with children on the Autism spectrum.
So while I have sympathy for the argument that autistic children are the latest faddish protected class, I have to chuckle. Please. The lives of most families with an autistic child are unrelenting hell. If families do attempt to engage the world–which eating, wearing clothes, going to church, and working tend to force, other people will have to deal with the uncomfortable feelings they have when they see a child acting “weird”.