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I see my son with Asperger’s and see potential

I have never written to a newspaper before but Mr Humphreys’ article on February 3 entitled ”Core connection” was so horrendously insulting and hurtful that I feel compelled to respond.

Judging by the reaction on Facebook following Irish Autism Action’s post on the article, it will certainly not be the only correspondence you receive on it.

The article is so insulting, ill-informed and unbalanced that I am surprised that you have published it. I believe there are other parents seeking legal advice on the article.

I am the father of a child with Asperger’s. I am one of those parents whom Mr Humphreys implies and infers has little or no heart qualities, is emotionally deficient and is ultimately responsible for the diagnosis of my son with Asperger’s syndrome.

I am hurt by Mr Humphreys’ ill-considered comments. Hurt, angry, and frustrated. Is that three emotions? I also feel great pride and joy at the uniqueness of my little boy. More emotions. I am not alone in being a parent of a child with autistic traits who is also capable of emotion. Mr Humphreys’ stereotypical assumptions about parents of children on the ASD spectrum [are] terrifyingly ignorant, given his esteemed position in the world of popular psychology.

My own background is in nursing (not an engineer) and I completed a degree in counselling and psychotherapy, going through the mill of personal examination and development.

What I learned most from this is that no matter how much work you have done on yourself it is easy to fall into the trap of seeing the world through the wounded eyes of your childhood. How was your childhood Mr Humphreys? Mine was difficult. I know it.

I feel it and I am determined that my children will not feel how I did. I know I will fail but I would like to control the level to which I fail. Constant self examination of my feelings and interactions with my child will not change the fact that he was born with an autistic spectrum disorder.

The casual assumption of Mr Humphreys about the personal qualities of the parents and grand-parents of autistic children is truly staggering. He says that these adults “live predominantly in their heads and possess few or no heart qualities”. I would be surprised if Prof Baron-Cohen’s article states or even implies this Perhaps you should get your legal representatives to check that one.

He goes on to imply that their children will need to find some way of defending themselves against the absence of expressed love and affection and emotional receptivity. There you go. And that’s all you need to say to us emotionally deficient parents to set us off, getting all emotional!

This is a hugely damaging and hurtful article for parents. I haven’t seen any of those robotic parents that Mr Humphreys is alluding to. Only hard-working, frustrated, sad, hurt, loving and proud parents struggling to deal with their children’s behaviour and unique special needs. Many of us are completely alone in dealing with such a disorder that can be difficult for even family to accept and help with.

Even implying that engineers and cognitively gifted or clever people have little or no capacity to feel or express emotion is fundamentally erroneous. I don’t believe that necessarily follows on from the research that says that they are more likely to have children on the autistic spectrum. I guess Mr Humphreys must be assuming that if an autistic child has poor emotional expressiveness (false anyway) then their parents must also have that trait. I wonder if Prof Baron-Cohen might be interested in Mr Humphreys’ article and the accuracy or not of his assertions and references to the professor’s article.

Anyway, I could go on about the illogical and inaccurate arguments that Mr Humphreys makes. The impact of this article on parents of autistic children is very damaging. It is very difficult to “get” a diagnosis. And who would really want to? We certainly didn’t. Denied it. Fought it. Blamed others. Then eventually accepted it and then have to put up with others’ judgments about us over protecting our child because he is over-sensitive to noise, activity, lights, etc.

I wonder if Mr Humphreys has considered the emotional impact of his article on the people (yes, people, emotional beings), how sceptical grandparents, extended family members, disgruntled parents of classmates could use his authoritative opinion to undermine the hard work of parents, teachers, special needs assistants and other professionals around the country.

It seems to me that Mr Humphreys is doing exactly what he is accusing parents of doing: Intellectualising and distancing himself from the hugely emotional and personal world that is the relationship between a child on the autistic spectrum and his parents.

Parents of children with autism are struggling to meet the needs of their children. Government cutbacks on special needs assistants in schools, resource hours and the scandalous adversarial approach of the Department of Social Protection towards parents’ applications for domiciliary care allowance.

This was reported by Niamh Lyons, political correspondent for the Irish Daily Mail following Joan Burton’s robotic and emotionless response to TD Simon Harris’s question in the Dáil.

When I see my son with Asperger’s I see potential. I see potential being stripped away by the Government’s cuts. Every publication that reinforces any public opinion that it’s my own fault for being a heartless parent is damaging to me and to him.

Niall Finn

Mullinroe

Macroom

Co Cork

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