Saturday, 10 September 2016

Why I'm Not Worried About My Child's Development (More on the CTFD Approach to Autism)

I was writing before about how we, in the general sort of 'we', can calm the f*** down about autism.  This idea is based on adapting the CTFD Parenting method. 

I wanted to expand a little more on the topic of worrying about our kids.

My 3rd child has already flagged up some early autism markers on the development screening check.  Not responding to his name, not holding out his arms to be lifted, no two-way turn-taking in play or conversation, no imitated speech sounds, in fact no imitation of us at all.  These are some fairly definite delays in communication development in an otherwise bright and fast-growing baby.  But I'm not actually worried about it.

Why not?? Here's the thing:  There's a difference between tracking and supporting development, and being worried.  So he has some early autism markers.  So did my second child.  Oh no.  Panic, panic.  My children might have some autistic traits.  Oh, wait, so do I.

It only recently occurred to me that professionals who evaluate my children will, in their minds, be looking for something wrong with them.  I don't see my children as being broken.  They are different, not wrong or damaged or broken.  Different can be hard, but it's ok.  They don't need to be fixed.

So why would I seek a diagnosis or evaluation at all, then? Well, that's a good question, and one worth writing about in more depth some other day.  The short answer, though, is that I want to know more about their strengths and challenges, and I want to know as soon as possible so that we can support their development as bets we can, and try to avoid any missed steps in their development that will be harder to make up for later on.  But I see that as proactive parenting, not as worrying.

Everyone is so quick to reassure us.  "There's no need to be worried." "Some children just pick these things up later. " (Really? That's a fairly significant chunk of typical development to 'just pick up'.)  "Maybe it's just an atypical development pattern." (Yeah, like autism.) "We'll see what happens when he/she starts school." (Right.  Because early intervention isn't really that big a deal. - Oh, wait, what about all that research and the 'earlier the better' stuff?)

The thing is, all those people are talking from the point of view that I must be afraid that there is something wrong with my child.  I really don't think fear-based language has a place on child development screening questionnaires, and I don't think it has a place in conversation between parents and professionals or para-professionals unless a potentially life-threatening medical condition is involved.  I've never yet heard of anyone who had a fatal case of autism. 

Granted, I might be less casual if one of my children was not connecting or communicating with us at all, or was really severely impaired in some way, or was self-injurious or violent.  And there are plenty of parents out there who do have every right to worry about those things.  Even the more everyday worries about "Will he be ok at school?" "Will she make friends?" "Will his teacher understand him?" "Will she ever hold down a good job?" are perfectly valid, and I don't mean to belittle them.  It's the contagious fear that there might be something wrong that I don't think fits.

I know some fantastic, intelligent, empathic, autistic adults.  They are some of the most deeply vibrant people I know.  Some of the people I love best in the world are on the autism spectrum.  I'm not afraid of my children being like them. 

So, this little child of mine is showing signs of autism.  I'm not going to sit back and see how things pan out, as those people who apparently believe that autism is to be feared would have me do.  Just like I'm not going to drop toilet learning and see if he one day starts using the toilet.  Or let him watch television all day and see if he learns to read by school age.  And it's not because I am worried about toilet learning, or worried about him being illiterate.  It's because I am a parent.  I do parenting.  I watch over my children's growth with delight, and notice when they seem to need help getting something, or when they need a little encouragement to go on to the next stage, or when they are ready for a bigger challenge or more independence. That's parenting.  Maybe he would pick up communication skills without intervention.  Maybe he would teach himself to read while watching Paw Patrol with the subtitles turned on. But reading him stories and playing letter games is not going to do him any harm, and neither will playing more face-to-face social games.  You could call it early intervention, but I would just call it parenting.

I won't do my child any harm by playing with him more, so why not do it? I can't quite get my head around why people who are supposed to be helping parents do their job would not suggest simple interventions to support social development through play and parent-child connection, and instead tell them "Don't worry".  Unless it's that they see autism as some kind of incurable disease that nobody would want to have, and not just a different way of being.  And that is actually something that I think is worth being scared about.


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