“When you judge another, you do not define them. You define yourself.” ~Wayne Dyer
Everybody judges. We are predisposed to it, it comes from our basic survival instincts. It evolves over time from what we experience. As the quote above implies, our judgements are not facts.
Judgement is a huge issue for parents raising a kid with autism. At the bottom of the problem is that these kids are so different and challenging, nobody walks in the parent’s shoes but the parent. Nobody has the experience necessary to judge but the parent! Even experts judge in ways that have shocked me. I remember a therapist telling me about a home visit to a family and how awful the parents were that they had given up trying to correct the child’s difficult behaviors. I was stunned by this comment because I assumed the experts would know what it is like to try to teach ONE basic skill for years and years and still have failure. Of course we give up! How long do we keep trying before we accept that we cannot change it, we can only lead the horse to water?
Recently I was with my son in a grocery store. My son loves to go to the grocery store but has of late had difficulty coping with my hands being on the shopping cart handle (and I have NO idea why….). So I get my son to push the cart. This allows me to keep my hands where he thinks they need to be, and avoids an embarrassing and a potentially aggressive meltdown. It also helps him learn grocery skills and some spatial movement skills and coordination. Unfortunately he sometimes makes driving mistakes, and i do need to watch him very closely to avoid disasters. I have missed a few. Once he suddenly let go of the cart resulting in a crash and a whole row of cap’n crunch (appropriately) cereal boxes being knocked to the floor. He once misjudged how close the front of the cart was to a flimsy cardboard display as he spun the shopping cart around, sending it careening and dumping most of it out.
The other day he pushed the cart a bit roughly into an elderly gentleman’s behind. The man was quite upset at having been violated by a shopping cart attached to a normal looking smiling kid who looks old enough to know better. He gave me and Nick a look of disgust and indignation. It was not hard to read his mind. Unfortunately this kind of thing happens with regularity, and while I can forgive anybody for not understanding, the frequency of negative or uncomprehending judgements gets wearisome.
I have an acquaintance with a teenage son with autism who tries to escape from the house regularly. He also screams loudly as a form of self entertainment. To deal with the potential running, they have a security system that beeps whenever somebody tries to open a window or door. As well the have double locks on all doors and windows on the main floor.
It happened that one day her son was upset and tried to escape from a window in a second floor bedroom, something he had not tried previously. The alarm alerted her and she arrived just in time to see the boy about to fall to the ground. She tried to pull him back into the room but he was too heavy and down he went. I cannot recall if he was injured, but a neighbor (who complains about the boys screaming as well) saw the event and contacted Children’s Aid! So she had to endure a humiliating visit from them, at which she said she felt compelled to impress upon then that they had done everything they could to ensure their son’s safety. She also had to explain about his vocal stims; the family was not torturing him, and had been trying unsuccessfully to reduce the vocals for years. And that unfortunately there was no “off button” that came with her autistic son.
In both examples it is the difficulty of predicting and controlling autistic behaviors, and of teaching socially correct behaviors, that is not well understood by the judges, even the pros.
I have learned how my judgement speaks to my experience. My life with autistic kid has put me into such ridiculous and bizarre situations that i guess i tend to be judgement-averse. I have a different perspective of what is important than most people. I can share the benefits of my experiences to help people avoid judgement mistakes as follows:
1. Try to identify judgement when it happens. Being aware of judgemental thinking is the biggest obstacle. For example any thoughts that start with: “if that were my kid…..!!” or “where is the parent…..?” have judgement implicit in them. I am just as guilty as anyone else but now I catch myself.
2. Once you recognize you are applying a judgement, you can then remind yourself that you do not step in their footsteps, you do not know their path. I have also found that there is personal peace and joy that comes from letting go of judgement.
That not so simple act of reserving judgement is so helpful for the successful integration of our special needs people into the community and their families as well. Integration is not a matter of physical location in the community, it is about attitude.
For another story see this blog post: