I would like to say without ambiguity that
I deeply regret any hurt that has arisen for parents in my attempt to open up
debate about ways of responding to children – and their parents, teachers and
other concerned adults – who have been considered to suffer from a “disorder”
called ASD. It seems to me that the hurt has arisen from confusion between
“blame” and acknowledgement of influence. I understand that this may seem just
a matter of words but, in truth, there is a profound difference between the
two; a difference I am seeking here to clarify.
Blame implies intention; it implies a knowing of the effect on the other person; it implies lack of care. My track record as a clinical psychologist over 30 years, as the Founder and Director of the Diploma in Parent Mentoring, and as an author, clearly shows that blame has no place in my response to difficulties in life experienced by any person, in any setting. But it is important to acknowledge the reality that our lives are lived in the context of relationships with one another and the nature of those relationships has a huge influence on the quality of our lives.
My profound belief is that our nature is good and that in our core we are always loving. But the reality of human life is that each and every one of us carries doubts about our rightness, our goodness and our worthiness of love and, in response, we build up unconscious defences – we build up a screen that does not reflect our true, loving nature. The response called out by this reality is compassion. We all need support, encouragement and guidance to find the safety to openly and directly act out from our true, loving nature. Parents are not a separate category of human beings; we should not expect them to be superhuman but instead acknowledge how things can be in the parent-child.
It has always been evident to me that no parent ever deliberately wants to block the progress of her/his child. There is never “a failure of love”. But the extent to which any one of us can openly, clearly and unconditionally show our love is directly related to the extent of our unconditional love for ourselves – this applies in all relationships whether parent-child, spouse-spouse, teacher-pupil, employer-employee, doctor-patient or politician-citizen.
For me, the essence of effective responsiveness to troubled/troubling behaviours – whether of adult or child – is compassionate understanding of all that is happening in that person’s life. In the case of children it is particularly important that we try to hear their stories. It is not common to hear stories of major neglect, but children, of necessity, are very tuned in to the adults in their lives on whom they are completely dependent and they are sensitive to nuance and subtleties in how those adults are relating to them, in all areas of their lives – emotional, social, intellectual, physical, behavioural and creative.
The contribution I want to make to the debate on responding to “autism” is to focus on how we as adults can resolve our own self-doubts, fears and vulnerabilities so that the way we influence one another reflects, to the greatest extent possible, our true nature rather than defensive screens. I make this a challenge for all of us adults because while parents obviously have a central role, children live their lives in the context of ever-widening networks of relationships: home, pre-school, school, community and wider society.
Dr. Tony Humphreys is a clinical psychologist, author, national and international speaker. His book with co-author Helen Ruddle, Relationship, Relationship, Relationship, Heart of a Mature Society is relevant to this article.