Once again there are stories in the news about parents making their autistic children drink bleach in a vain attempt to “cure” them of their autism. I don’t think I really have to say why this is so bad, or the harm that it can do. We all know you can’t “cure” autism, and I would hope we all know how bad drinking bleach can be. The so-called cures at best burn your insides and cause immense pain, and at worst put people’s lives at risk. As I say I should not have, in 2018, to be writing up an argument for why giving bleach to children is not a good idea. But it seems to keep coming up. Every few months or weeks there will be a new story about it in the news, or online. Someone else in the UK or USA has worked out they can make some money out of selling a “cure” for autism. So they make up a mythology around it – namely that autism is caused by parasites of the gut, and that drinking the cure will kill the parasites, and therefore cure the autism. Of course there is no truth to any of that.
The people who try and sell this just see a way to make money, and don’t care who they hurt as long as they get paid. There have always been people like this, and there always will be, it’s just a sad fact of life. People who will pray on others fears and exploit them for money, no matter the cost. What worries me more is why the level of fear is so high in the first place?
This is not meant to in anyway excuse the people selling the bleach, but the truth is that people are willing to buy it off them, and feed it to their children. OK they might not know what is in it, but lets take this point by point.
We should all know by now that there is no cure for autism. That is just a fact. We see so- called “cures” all the time, and they range from diet to bleach. But if you have an autistic child you owe it to them, and to yourself to make sure you fully understand what autism is. It is not something that can be cured – this is not a statement about alternative medicine vs real medicine, it’s just a statement that whatever the “cure” it’s a lie. I don’t think it’s too much to hope that parents should understand and grasp this most basic of facts if their child has been diagnosed.
I have seen more than a few comments along the lines of “ This is shocking, you can understand why the parents got so desperate, but it’s still shocking.” My reaction upon seeing comments like that is always the same “No, I can’t understand why someone would want to poison their child.” I am not trying to make out like autism is always a good thing, or that it can’t be hard at times. I could not even begin to count the days of my life that have been ruined by meltdowns, overloads and other autism-related stresses. Autism is never wholly good, it always comes with some bad parts that make life harder, and yes can make the lives of the parents of the autistic child harder too. Add to that the worry a lot of parents have about how the world will treat their child after they are gone, the knowledge of how cruel the world can be to anyone who is different/vulnerable, and the wish to spare their children from that, and we can see why some parents might feel anxious about their child’s autism. But again I say, even knowing all of that, I can not for one second imagine why someone would feel that slowly poisoning their child would help make things any better. I think sometimes there is a desire not to attack parents, and to even sympathise with them to a point, but there has to be a limit to that. I have seen the same kind of comments on stories where parents have killed their autistic children in premeditated and brutal murders “ Well it’s sad, but you can understand what drove them to it”. This has to stop. I don’t care how hard you think your life is, I don’t care how stressed-out you are, killing or hurting your children is beyond the pale in the eyes of any decent society, and it’s about time we stopped using being stressed-out with the child’s autism as a way to bring sympathy back to the perpetrator.
There is still a fear of autism, that much is clear. Despite all the good work autistic people have tried to do over the years to convince others that our lives are worth living, and that we are not something to be feared, it’s clear that old-fashioned attitudes are still worryingly prevalent. To see that fear in people who have never had any contact with autistic people is worrying enough, but to see it in people who’s own children are autistic is the real worry. Have these parents not taken the time to read the books, articles and blogs written by autistic people that debunk pseudoscience, and talk about how autism is not something to be scared of? They must know their children are autistic, but it feels like they would rather talk about made-up cures on secret Facebook groups than face up to facts, and educate themselves. Ignorance, as we know, is a great breeding-ground for fear. Far from being bliss ignorance is like a fog through which we can only glimpse the shape of something we are dimly aware is out there, and of course when half-glimpsed through fog anything will look scary. But wilful ignorance of the kind where you choose to ignore decades of research in to autism and pretty much everything ever written on the subject by autistic people, and believe that feeding your child bleach will make everything OK is like being given a torch to illuminate a path through the fog, and deciding instead to hurl it away from you at one of the shapes you can’t quite make out.
You would be forgiven for thinking that the deeper we go in to the 21st century the more we as a society would reject pseudoscience, and outright lies about health. But that’s not true. This can be seen in the resurgence of the anti-vaccine movement as well as in the desire for wilful ignorance in regards to the use of bleach on autistic children. We should be living in a time where autism and autistic people are accepted and understood, and it’s true that we are more than ever before. But it’s also clear that those levels of acceptance and understanding are nowhere near as high as they need to be. There is still far too much fear out there, and sadly, despite the best efforts of autistic people, it does not look like this is going away anytime soon. While there are still parents out there who choose to shout down the voices of autistic people who dare to suggest that autism might not be the worst thing under the sun, while at the same time choosing to buy in to a scheme that is only going to hurt, and potentially even kill their child out of fear of something they choose not to understand, then there is still work to be done. I would love to live in a world where a story of parents forcing their autistic children to drink bleach is shocking, and not just repetitive. Because that’s what makes it even more scary, the fact that we have all heard this story before, and I know for a fact we will hear it again, and more than once before 2018 is over.
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