Why Wouldn’t Autism Parents Want to Presume Competence?

Jaden Walker


A few days ago, congress held a panel on the rising prevalence of autism. As I worried, a great portion of the debate devolved into the long debunked connection between autism, vaccines, and mercury. To put it mildly, I spent a lot of it with my palm firmly attached to my face.

One of the redeeming portions was near the very end, where two actual autistics were allowed to speak: John Michael Carley and Ari Ne’eman. While I won’t get into everything that was said (these two were brilliant, as always), one moment is stuck in my head and I just can’t shake it.

One of Carley’s comments was (my quote is probably not exact), “Your sons and daughters with autism can hear what you say about them and read what you write about them.” Before he’d even fully finished the sentence, several people behind him began violently shaking their heads “no” in disgust.

Why would they react like this? Do they truly disagree with this statement? I think that it’s more likely that they just don’t want to believe that their kids will ever be hurt by the horrible things that they’ve said about them. I can’t imagine how painful it would be to come to the realization that all those times you called your non-verbal child a burden, curse, cancer, or any number of other hurtful terms, that they heard and understood you. But they can, and they do.

I’ve heard more than a few times from non-verbal autistics that have started using the internet to communicate. They’ve all told me about hearing their parents saying these things when they were young, as if they weren’t there. But they were. And they understood.

We can hear you. We understand you. Please stop saying such hateful things about us.