This is a word that is used a lot. In my work as a Global Ambassador for Taryn Brumfitt’s “Body Image Movement”, we constantly talk about empowering girls and women to love and embrace their bodies.
When I look at the parallels of this movement and trying to achieve the same goals for our special needs children and individuals, I wonder how we can empower them to embrace their differences and love themselves.
To be on the ‘autistic spectrum’, have ‘dyslexia’ or ‘ADD’, are still labels that carry a stigma. And this is shocking, considering that 1 in 68 children have autism and 1 in 10 have ADD! There are some conditions such as dysgraphia and dyspraxia where there are no tangible statistics yet.
Going back to my statement that it is a label that carries a stigma, I know from my clients who are high functioning autistic or ADHD or ADD, that the children themselves do not want their peers to know and their parents do not want their children’s friends and families to know.
Not only do these children have all of the learning and social challenges that these conditions impose on them, but they also feel shame and are trying to hide it. The amount of pressure on them is incredible.
How as a society are we empowering our children or adolescents at all? There are young girls and boys with image issues who feel ashamed and hate themselves, because of different physical attributes of their bodies that they have no control over. There are LGBTQI children who also feel shame, self-loathing, hatred, confusion and believe they are a burden to their families.
Then there are our many special needs kids (from mild special needs to severe), who also have the same feelings of guilt, shame, self-loathing, hatred of themselves and belief that they are a burden to their families.
So I ask again: how are we empowering our children?
I ended my last blog with: “As a society we care too much about other people’s ideas of what is and what is not appropriate, rather than the effect our actions and behaviour will have on the ones we should love and support the most.”
For all my life I have been a strong advocate of accepting others – regardless of sexuality, ethnicity or religion. This also extends to those with disability.
I question why there are always media articles and press related to the causes of autism, ADD and ADHD, such as articles about new research that suggests there could somehow be a “cure” for these conditions.
I recently came across an article about autism, in which an individual commented that it’s like what happened with homosexuality – people were (and some still are) trying to find a cure! Homosexuality is now more widely accepted, though I acknowledge not totally, as part of human diversity. So I ask: why is autism, ADD and ADHD not seen in the same light?
Why are we constantly making these individuals feel as if there is something wrong with them and that there is something to cure? Why do we not simply support them and make them feel comfortable in their diversity, and nurture the strengths and gifts they have to offer?
As well as a general lack of acceptance is the guilt that is dished out via the media and social platforms to mothers. I recently read an article that there are direct links between vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy and autism. At the time I thought, “Do mothers really need anything more to feel guilty about, or to worry that perhaps they could have prevented their child having autism!?”
At times it appears that we are too quick to criticise and chastise those with these “conditions”, rather than accepting them and giving them the support they need to feel like valued members of society. We make them feel that they have a “condition” to be cured, rather than just accepting their differences.
When these reports come out in the media, I see individuals with autism whose self-esteem and self-worth is strongly affected. It further adds to their feelings of inadequacy and belief that they are a burden to their families. All these media reports do is fuel the idea that these are conditions to be cured like diseases.
When you consider that individuals with ADD, ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia and other similar conditions have a high propensity for mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, why is it OK to make them feel more inadequate, anxious and depressed with these reports?
These individuals need to be given the support they need to feel empowered; to know that they are valuable members of society with much to contribute through their strengths, rather than focussing on their weaknesses.