“What does the story you tell matter, if the world is set upon hearing a different one?” –Ta-Nehisi Coates
After my autistic son was diagnosed 18 years ago, I went looking for autism and parenting guidebooks. And while I found exactly zero mainstream resources for helping him be a happy and well-adjusted autistic person, I did find a sizable industry centered on “fixing” him, whether through ABA therapy, specialized diets, supplements, or worse.
It’s not surprising that humane strategies for parenting autistic children were not selling books in 2003, as the autism zeitgeist had only just moved on from blaming autism on “refrigerator mothers” and exploded into an autism-vaccine-epidemic panic. That era’s media outlets would typically only frame autistic children as damaged goods who needed to be reshaped into “normal” children.
But we have long since debunked the autism epidemic and vaccine causation myths, plus autistic people are increasingly writing their own stories about the supports they needed as kids—so why does the publishing industry keep pumping out books about parents shaming their kids for being autistic, like To Siri With Love, or forcibly traumatizing their autistic kids, like Autism Uncensored? These books receive rapturous praise and acclaim from the mainstream media, while parallel outrage and horror from autistic people and their allies are mostly ignored.
Our autistic kids, and their parents, deserve better. And that is why I fume when new books like Yvon Roy’s Little Victories are touted by the mainstream press as “tender” and “uplifting.” There is nothing to praise about a dad’s determination to “overcome” autism; such stories are horrifying to parents like me who fight for acceptance, and to autistic people who just want accommodations and understanding so they can live their lives.
Little Victories is yet another book about a parent resenting having a autistic child (even while very obviously loving them). About forcing that autistic child to make eye contact. About forcing him to tolerate sensory sensations that are painful for him. About forcibly disrupting a child’s routines so he won’t “cling” to them, even though autistic children find sameness soothing and reassuring.
These are the “little victories” this graphic novel celebrates, even though anyone who pays attention to what autistic people themselves say understands that such approaches are much more likely to harm autistic children than to help them.
Little Victories is an example of a “heroic” autism parent memoir trend that needs to die. But why is it that Roy thinks he is the only one who can help his son, that he doesn’t need to consult experts (let alone autistic insights), and that he can figure out what his son needs all on his own? Maybe it’s a matter of ego, but I think it’s also likely that Roy couldn’t find the kind of resources that he and his son needed, and so he took his own path. And, in his ignorance about autism, made some really bad choices.
There is no shortage of parents clamoring for books to help them parent their autistic kids, but instead of misguided books like Little Victories, they need books that take them through an honest and compassionate journey from diagnosis to understanding. That show autistic children being recognized and adored for who they are, not being “lovingly” forced to submit to society’s narrow social norms. That celebrate what THEIR love and joy look like, rather than what their parents think they should be. That explain what THEIR socializing looks like, rather than what parents think “social skills” mean. That teach what THEIR communication needs are, rather than forcing them to communicate acceptably and with speech-only. That talk about what THEIR boundaries are, rather than bulldozing their personal space “for their own good.”
I wish Little Victories was that book, especially as people love learning through storytelling. But it isn’t. So please, avoid this deceptively heartwarming tale. It mostly only models how to make questionable choices as a parent of an autistic child, and that can only hurt autistic children.
And, publishers? Maybe start publishing books on autism and parenting that don’t suck.