No, I don’t have children. Not that you asked, but, maybe, you were wondering. Or, maybe you don’t care in the slightest about the outcomes of my procreation habits, for which I thank you. No offense, but they are none of your business.
Or are they? Many, many, many people seem to believe that the answer to that very question is critically germane to my business, which most of you know by now, is an autism spectrum specialist. If you read my blog with any regularity, you know that a business is not what I consider my life’s work and passion, but I digress.
Perhaps because I am a woman, perhaps because I am a relatively young woman (30 next month!), perhaps because I arbitrarily look fertile or motherly or something, I am asked, “Do you have children?” frequently. No, wait, what’s more than frequently? Well, too much.
Sometimes, the question appears to be a moment of commiseration. “You know [insert something frustrating, annoying, embarrassing about having children], you have children, right?” Other times, the question is based on faulty pseudo-logic: “You [pick one of the following: work with, have patience for, seem to enjoy, have fun with kids], you must have some of your own.” Most times, though, this question is wielded as a secret weapon that is, in the holder’s mind, a trump card. I don’t have that card in my deck, which means I lose. Game over. Don’t pass go and do not collect $200.
Two years ago, I met a family for the first time with their seven-year-old son. During the developmental history, a question and answer data collection procedure (not a time when I provide thoughts/opinions/recommendations — meaning, I had yet to open my mouth to do the helping portion of my job), the mother began looking around my office. Fairly typical and expected, especially during an initial consultation. My office is filled with toys, games, Mini Cooper Hot Wheels, dinosaurs, bean bags, and books. As her perusal continued, I became curious, following her line of sight. My degrees, awards, and other frame-worthy, credibility-indicating items are strategically in full view. Those were not the point of interest. What’s left in my office? I remember thinking. Well, nothing. Except me.
That realization hit when she made eye contact with me. It was like that stylized, cliched “high noon” showdown. You know, when two cowboys shuffle down a dusty road, hands quivering near their pistols or, I guess in this situation, baby rattles. Well, in this showdown, I didn’t have a Tickle-Me Elmo to counter with. “You don’t have children. You don’t have a ring on. You have no pictures of family. What makes you qualified to work with kids?” I stood my ground but shot blanks. They opted to not work with me.
For me, there has always been an inherent irony. Not having children has allowed me to work later (which means MORE) and to devote time and energy to my clients in ways that might be diminished if I had my own children. Irony aside, the idea that motherhood makes me more qualified is one that has never resonated with much integrity. In my mind, it’s like requiring an auto mechanic to have a car in order to provide you service. Hell, it’s even better if the mechanic has the same make and model. (I’m still searching for who can service my customized Mini Cooper.)
I’m not asking for parents to settle for the childless, nor am I trailblazing a Child Left Behind policy. Rather, I’m looking critically at the comparisons that can be drawn between ASD and NT. The countless developmental histories I have completed (in clients who have stayed and left) document how the trajectory and experiences that make up the “life” of a child on the spectrum are inherently, (obviously) diagnostically different from that of a neurotypical child. Yet, it is that very neurotypical child that others want me to have (as if I have control over that). That child would not help me understand my clients in ways that parents assume or hope.
On the flip side, I do think my clients help me understand all children and, for that matter, all people. I guess, when I do have a child, I have to make sure he or she is on the spectrum. I can frame the birth certificate and hang it next to my diplomas.