Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Unwanted ‘advice’ is frequently off-base

On the Café Press website, an entire line of T-shirts and other items serve as proxy advocates with which parents can communicate, “Your parenting suggestions are unwelcome unless you have a child with [fill-in-the-blank].”

Since I am a grown child with [fill-in-the-blank] (in my case, the condition is Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder), I sympathize with parents and children who are on the receiving end of public criticism.

I think that people are quick to reach judgments about some one’s behavior — and even quicker to express those judgments — without learning the full circumstances.

I remember as a child trying on several pairs of shoes in a shoe store one day and at some point I exceeded my tolerance. I don’t recall what I did or said but I remember a stranger telling me, “If you were my child, I would spank you.”

On another occasion, during a reunion of the Parkhill family, the buffet table ran out of chicken before I reached the front of the line. I was ravenously hungry and the only food left was food that I could not eat due to tactile sensitivity. Frustrated, I began to cry and an adult relative called me a “brat.”

No, I was not a brat; I was a child and I was reacting to physical circumstances that were overwhelming to me.

I was also without the benefit of diagnosis to help my parents explain my behavior, since diagnostic criteria for the autism spectrum was not adopted in the United States until the mid-1990s.

Laura Shumaker, a contributor to San Francisco Chronicle’s “City Brights,” brought a YouTube video to readers’ attention with her Dec. 21 post: “Autism 101: Parenting Advice from Total Strangers.”

According to Shumaker, this video “says it all” about parenting a child with autism. I could instantly relate with the scenario upon the basis of my experience.

Sure enough, there were the quick judgments about the child and suggestions for correcting his behavior, complete with a reference to spanking — as if his condition could somehow be disciplined out of him.

But the YouTube video also showed a father who was familiar enough with the stresses that affect his son to be able to interpret the cause of his son’s behavior and then to calmly state and reiterate known facts about his child’s circumstances.

Almost made me want to have a time machine, so I could go back in time and give my parents some T-shirts with which to issue preemptive retorts — along with a copy of Tony Attwood’s book, “The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome.”

I’m hoping that, as an adult, I’ve learned better coping strategies to handle life’s inevitable stresses. I think that many people, myself included, would benefit by reminding ourselves not to rush to judgment without having all the facts.

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