Thursday, 29 October 2015

Holland vs Italy

Yesterday, as I was searching for Emily Perl Kingsley's Welcome to Holland essay, I found this reply from a parent who hates the analogy.

Kingsley's essay is about how a parents' expectations have to change when their child is diagnosed with special needs, like going to Holland instead of Italy.  Parents have hoped and prepared for Italy and ended up in Holland, which has its nice points but isn't the same as where everyone else goes.

The counterargument in the reply is that no one's expectations of parenthood ever get fulfilled.  There are always wrenches in the process or tragedies waiting to strike.  But the main source of frustration seems to be that the Holland essay is used as an inspirational piece, a "hey, your life is okay, you're just in Holland instead of Italy".

I can understand that frustration.  Personally, I dislike inspirational stories, especially when relayed by those who don't really have a grasp on what I'm dealing with (Random people in the street, looking at you).  The implication always seems to be "these parents kept trying and managed to fix their kid, why aren't you making that effort?".  It also implies that I should be desperate enough to take the parenting advice of the cashier at Farm Boy.

I recognize that the intent is kind.  They want to share something that they think might help, they want to spread a little sunshine, they're excited to have something to offer.  But in the end, it is all about them and what they want, not about what is actually helpful to families with special needs.

Going back to the Holland analogy, one can certainly argue that reality and expectations are different for everyone and autism isn't the only possible twist in the road.  But I would argue that having a child with special needs is significantly different from a bookish parent discovering their child has an affinity for sports.  This is why I emphasize that we're talking about different countries when I use the analogy.  It's not about different expectations, it's about needing radically different tools and teaching processes.

I intend to keep using the analogy.  I've found it helpful for illustrating the reality of a diagnosis for newly diagnosed families.  As devastating as it can be, it is also the moment when families finally start to get the help they need.  Getting around Autismland (since Holland may be starting to get a complex about this continuing analogy) is possible once you have the right maps and language.  

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