But it will require what I call “burden-shifting.”
The burden begins with me, the parent of the autistic child, to disclose his disability. “My child has autism, I’m working with him to overcome his fears.” And notice that I am not apologizing for his autism, simply identifying it.
Many parents of autistic children will resist this idea: “why should I have to explain anything, my life is already hard enough!” Because a tantrum is an opportunity to educate. I believe we advocate best for our children when we put their autistic behaviors in context rather than let others assume the worst. We advocate best if our words are not angry or defensive, just factual, “My child has autism, I’m doing the best I can.” Because we are not seeking to punish the people who might be our greatest allies, if only they understood.
But now the burden shifts to you, general public. All you bystanders who don’t know what to do when you witness the unthinkable. The answer is tolerance – you have a duty not to comment cruelly, not to insist we leave. A duty to temporarily tolerate the screaming even if it makes you uncomfortable. Because if you’re uncomfortable for 20 minutes, imagine how it feels for the parent who lives with it.
Given our numbers, public tantrums should be happening daily, hourly. But they are not – because we parents feel so ashamed of tantrums we keep our children locked up at home. In my humble opinion – this has to stop. Because there is no substitute for real world exposure. A child with autism cannot engage with the world if he’s kept at home. And if he can’t engage, he can’t overcome his fears and participate. And if we want people with autism to become productive and contributing members of society, it must start here. If we really want inclusion that benefits us all, we must all accept our burden.