Saturday, August 18, 2007

My Son Is Not A Monster

I may have mentioned before that I hate the Daily Mail, and this article has done little to endear me.

Jan Greenman has written a book about life with her son Luke, who has Asperger's syndrome and ADHD. My son Joe has Asperger's syndrome. He's a beautiful, affectionate, intelligent, sociable, funny, charming and sometimes infuriating boy.

Asperger's makes a parent's life difficult. On one level I have a lot of sympathy with Greenman. Yes, experiencing violence from your own son is horrible. Yes, the Asperger's desire for sameness and routine can be very frustrating and demanding. And maybe, since Luke has ADHD as well, he is much harder to cope with than Joe. Poor Jan had to give up her job as the treasurer of a private merchant bank. Perhaps the further you fall, the harder it is, eh?

But Greenman's article is cold and negative. Luke, according to the headline, is a 'monster'. A tip: his behaviour may at times be monstrous, but he is not a monster. If you must label, label the behaviour not the person.

Some of what Greenman complains about is behaviour common amongst children, although probably exaggerated in an Asperger's child. Lots of kids - autistic or not - wake up at 5am, write on the walls, and want to send their new baby sibling back to the hospital.

Greenman's upset at Luke's damage to expensive belongings contrasts with a notable lack of sympathy for Luke himself. There is not a word in this article acknowledging that Luke's life might be difficult, that he as well as his mother might find situations distressing. There is nothing about any positive aspects of his character. Greenman doesn't say she loves him, doesn't even really say she cares (in an emotional rather than strictly practical sense).

Luke has been excluded from mainstream secondary school because someone bullied him and he responded in a highly inappropriate manner. Hang on - Luke was bullied and he was excluded?! Sure, his response may have been inappropriate (that'll be the Asperger's), but what about the bully?! And what about the school, which can find no way to support a boy with Asperger's and ADHD and help him learn more appropriate social behaviour, and so chucks him out? Luke's mother has no such criticism or questions to raise. She only demands (reasonably enough) more special schools.

Maybe the Daily Mail has highlighted the negative and the book is more balanced. Maybe the newspaper, rather than the author, put the word 'monster' in the headline. There are several books around about bringing up - and about being - a child with Asperger's syndrome. I've not read any of them yet. But judging by this article, I won't be reading Jan Greenman's.

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