On Respecting the Privacy of Disabled Children

This week, the parents of a preteen autistic boy took to Twitter to document his meltdown – without his consent, obviously. I will not link to the specific tweets because I don’t want to contribute to his violation. Suffice it to say, I think that there are some ways we should and shouldn’t talk about our children.

Dehumanizing Language is a No

Don’t describe your child in dehumanizing ways. Don’t talk about them being “soulless” or “inhuman”. Don’t tell the world you fear your child as you bully that child. Don’t use one of the most public avenues of social media possible to shine a spotlight on your child’s darkest moments, inviting the whole world to gawk in horror at them. Don’t talk of your child as being “gone” when they are right here.

Empathize

If your boss provoked you to tears, and then started filming you as you cried, how would you feel? If you were in the hospital and soiled yourself, would you want the nurses describing it in great detail on social media later?  How about right during? Would that make you get more upset, and maybe even act out a bit? If someone’s having a meltdown, what they need is quiet safety and understanding. Parents who film their children’s meltdowns are doing so to elicit sympathy and attention for themselves, not to make their child safer or calmer.

Don’t Share Those Videos

They aren’t some deep insight into autism and they aren’t showing you something “brave” that parents should be lauded for bringing our attention to. Those videos are abuse. The person holding the camera is abusing the child during filming. The person who uploads the video is abusing the child again. And everyone who watches and shares those videos is contributing more to that abuse, a third time. It is horrible enough that children are trapped with unsympathetic and abusive parents. Joining in with the parents to heap abuse on their children is wholly unneeded.

Remember the Golden Rule

If you wouldn’t want your boss or partner posting it about you, you probably shouldn’t post it about your kid. And honestly, ask them if they want something on the internet. “Can I share this story you wrote?” will more likely get a yes than “Can I share this humiliating video of you crying, scared and in pain?” If your child says no, or if you think they’d say no, err on the side of not being a terrible parent and don’t share it with the internet.

Have a Support Network

Often parents who engage in this kind of internet over-sharing will say their reason for doing so is that they need support and solidarity. It is your responsibility as a parent to seek out a support network to meet your needs in ways that don’t abuse your child. Period. Whether that means a mental health provider or respite care or hiring a babysitter and going out for a date or with friends or just to have quiet by yourself. Yes, there are lots of things that make that harder, but no, those things don’t excuse blaming your child’s condition for your mistreatment of your child.

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