Won’t Someone (Autistic) Think of the Children

‘Children should be seen and not heard.’

There are probably days when I’ve pulled out fist-fulls of hair because Bear’s had an hour long meltdown or Tyger has been constantly yelling and banging when I would readily agree with the above statement.  I think most people these days, though, would agree children are human beings, too, and deserve respect and consideration.

Despite this, though, a lot of adults still seem very dismissive of children and their feelings.

I’m not saying we should let five-year-olds vote or defer to three years olds about whether they really fancy cleaning their teeth every day but I do think we – as adults – can be unfairly disdainful of children’s anxieties and problems.

Interestingly, a lot of autistic people I know (you know, us lot who are apparently ‘lacking in empathy’ according to popular myth) are a little more understanding of children’s worries.  It’s completely anecdotal on my part but – particularly with autistic women – childcare seems to be quite a popular employment option.  I do wonder whether there’s an element of understanding because so many autistic adults also experience people being dismissive of their problems and feelings.

When a child starts screaming because you gave them the square, blue plate and they wanted the round, patterned one it’s easy to be annoyed.  The shape and colour of the plate doesn’t matter, right?

Well…half right.

It doesn’t matter to you.

I’m an adult, not a child (a fact I sometimes have to remind myself of – no, seriously, I once told my teenage sister I’d go with her to get her bellybutton pierced except she’d probably have to have an adult with her…I was 27 at the time), and I am quite particular about which mug I use for different drinks.

I am an adult (if I keep saying it, I might start remembering) and expected not to make a fuss about mugs so I tend to keep quiet.

Even though the Shakespearean insults mug and Nightmare Before Christmas mug are clearly the best shapes for tea.  And the Cath Kidston or Refreshers mugs should obviously be used for Cup-a-soups and the Eejit mug is the only one worth measuring rice in and the metal mug with magnetic letters is evidently perfect as a container for keys and a pair of chopsticks for retrieving small bits of food from the toaster…

I could go on…and on.

I know it’s not socially acceptable when a guest has very kindly made tea/coffee for me to spring up and shout, ‘No, don’t give me the blue and white stripey mug!!  Why would you do that?  And don’t use the rice measuring mug for your drink, that’s patently madness of the highest level!  Just don’t touch the mugs and I will sort all hot drinks you heathen.’

So, I thank them warmly…and gulp down my tea as soon as I can so I can run to the kitchen and try to subtly sort out the chaos.

But it does mean, as much as I get frustrated, I do have some insight into the need to have a certain cup/plate/jacket/whatever even though it seems trivial to others.

No, it’s not – in the greater scheme of things – important…but neither is a bunch of men in shorts kicking a ball up and down a field.  Neither is making sure clothes have had a hot object smoothed over them to get rid of creases.  You can probably tell I don’t really ‘get’ football or ironing.  To me, both make as much sense and are about as important as Tyger’s insistence that his school polo shirts with two buttons are better than the polo shirts with three buttons when they look identical in all other ways to me.

Everyone has stuff they care about that other people don’t ‘get’.

Now, I’m not saying we should just give in to any and all demands from children.  Obviously, they need boundaries and there are times when you have to do (or not do) things that’ll upset them.  I’m also not saying I never get to the point where I yell something along the lines of, ‘It’s just a fracking plate; it doesn’t matter!!’  I reach that point several times a day.

However, when it comes to bigger issues it is important to remember if a child is feeling anxious/upset/scared etc. then it doesn’t really matter why.  Adults thinking something is silly or a non-issue won’t stop the child from feeling something and those feelings are just as valid as anyone else’s.

Again, I can’t help but make comparisons to my own experience as an autistic adult.  As anyone who’s read more than one or two of my posts probably already knows, I have massive anxiety around phone calls.  I have been known to put off important calls for days (or even weeks) even if it’s detrimental to me.  Some calls are easier for me than others: calling my parents is fine, calling the school when Tyger’s ill is less fine but still doable after a cup of tea and a few deep breaths but calling a company about a faulty product or phoning the bank with a change of address needs to be built up to and will basically be the only thing I do that day.

I admit it’s ridiculous.  In the 30 years I’ve been alive, I’ve never had someone reach down the phone and throttle me.  If the person started to shout, I could easily hang up.  The anxiety is completely unfounded.  Then again, so’s my fear of spiders and nobody ever bats an eyelid at that…probably because it’s a socially acceptable irrational fear.  The point is: the cause of the anxiety doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on the intensity of the anxiety.

Bear started nursery a few months ago.  Once he realised this was a permanent weekly feature, he started getting upset about going.  Really upset.

It would have been easy to dismiss his distress.  Loads of kids get upset about going to nursery and it seems normal protocol is just to leave them to it in the hope they’ll stop quickly.

I spent time talking to him about what he disliked about nursery.  The dinner they provided seemed to cause him distress.  His autism has led to a very limited diet and new foods (especially if runny/slimy/greasy) cause him anxiety.  After a chat with the nursery manager, I started sending him in with a packed lunch.

He also said he missed his Ferguses (he has several toy dogs…all called Fergus) so I made him a bag for them.

He said nursery was too noisy so I bought him new ear defenders.

Before all this I did try leaving him once when he was crying.  I waited in the entrance (unbeknownst to Bear) on the off-chance he’d calm down quickly once I was gone but within two minutes the nursery worker who had him came running out to tell me he was getting worse and was shaking and banging his head (a meltdown, basically).

After putting all the above measures into place I tried leaving him again and the result was very different.  I waited in the entrance and his key worker came to let me know he was fine within about two minutes of me leaving the room.

So, we did end up leaving him to cry after all but I still feel it was important to take his worries seriously.  I know I’ve taken steps to make nursery easier for him and I know I listened to him…more importantly: so does he.

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  1. I can totally empathise about the mugs. I have “male” mugs and “female” mugs, one mug that I swear makes my coffee taste funny but is fine for hot milk, and a mug which is perfect for hot chocolate. Woe betide anyone who makes my coffee in a male mug! And don’t get me started on cold drinks – NEVER put them in a mug! There are glasses for cold drinks – as long as they know the difference between water glasses and squash glasses …


    1. I really enjoyed reading this, thank you. I take on board your point that if the distress is real then the cause shouldn’t be trivialised. With my son I often find that distress is caused if he hasn’t yet completed something to his satisfaction, a game usually, so a little patience before moving on can really help.


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