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High Expectations – Necessary, But Not Sufficient

I listened to a mother of a child with autism deliver a presentation that received resounding applause. The central message of her speech was the importance of keeping high expectations of your child with autism. Okay. That works for me. I wholeheartedly agree that staying positive and believing that your child can grow increases the odds that he or she will, in part because you will continue to provide the supports that are necessary to promote growth.

The issue I had with this mother’s speech was that she asserted that the reason that her son had made so much progress was that she had kept her expectations high. Okay – I’m still with you. I get that. She went on to suggest that the difference between those children who excelled and those children who made little progress was the parents’ expectations. Wait, what?

I approached her after her speech since I thought that perhaps I had misinterpreted her words. Sadly, I had not. She clearly believed that if a child with autism fails to make progress, it is because his or her parents fail to keep expectations high enough. I am rarely at a loss for words, but her arrogance took my breath away. My blood still boils when I think of that conversation.

As parents of children with high needs, we all work hard and do the best we can with the knowledge, skills, tools and resources we have to help our children grow. If your child makes tremendous progress, I have no doubt that you as the parent played an enormous role in creating, inspiring and supporting that progress. However, the parents whose children continue to have high needs work at least as hard, if not harder even in the face of limited progress. Some children face more severe symptoms and manifestations of autism. Some families face so many additional challenges such as medical issues, co-morbid diagnoses, financial hardship and so much more. A failure of “high expectations” is not the reason some children remain severely impacted by autism.

As parents of children with special needs we must respect and support other parents. It can be difficult enough facing the judgment that is projected on us daily by people who have no experience with people with disabilities. I hope that some experience or encounter bring this mother (and anyone else who who is inclined to judge another parent) to a more compassionate understanding.


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