For some time now, I've been having ongoing conversations with my four girls (all autistic, including PDA) about what it means for us to be autistic.
We explore our autistic expression with pride; shamelessly, with curiosity and with the intention to recognise and identify what harms, and what helps us.
Nothing is off limits.
No matter how acceptable or unacceptable in society's eyes.
Many of us have grown amongst generations that discouraged particular behaviours that were deemed socially inappropriate.
Even today, this is evident in our current therapies seeking to normalise autistic children; to discourage them from their innate coping mechanisms and to have them be "indistinguishable from their peers".
In our family, we benefit from discussion around all aspects of autism, including the challenges.
There is nothing more important than a human being knowing who they are.
I know this, because I had the alternative for 30 plus years.
The seeking, the searching, the self loathing and self rejecting..
All because I felt I should be "indistinguishable from my peers".
I can't begin to express the damage, the harm that does.
As I sat with my 14 year old daughter last night, hearing her anxiety around the pressure placed on her to know what she wants to do with her life NOW, I felt the residual desperation of society.
14 years old.
We reassured her that as autistic people, we are not so much aloof and confused..
We are multitalented, multiinterested, multidimensional..
And this takes time to sort out; to understand.
I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life until I was 39 years old.
I turned 40 two weeks ago.
Here we are, raising our children in a society obsessed with doing.
Fixated on what we choose to do to earn money equating to our worth; value.
Our contribution to society-what we do for others.
Autistic people are a precious, fragile resource.
When we are nurtured, understood, accepted, then we thrive.
Many of our children can't face attending to the regimented way in which we are 'educated'.
Lord knows I couldn't.
I was done by age 15, midway through Year nine, after a couple of school changes.
That was in 1996. And I wasn't alone.
Brilliant minds, not able to withstand the mindless, monotonous, rule laden, uniformed, absolutely unnecessary means of being prepared for more regimentation and mindlessness.
As a secondary teacher, most of my time was taken up enjoying my students, laughing, joking, having important and in depth conversations with young people who needed to be heard.
As a primary teacher, my time was spent on nurturing young people who needed adults in their lives in the school environment who weren't angry, who weren't controlling, who allowed them space and time to be.
As an early childhood educator, I just played. Played and loved.
As a behavioural specialist, I listened, watched parents cry. Heard their despair over the pressure, the fear or their children being rejected and not meeting societal expectations set upon them.
My working life has been centred on relationships.
And I am autistic. The irony.
One of our children attends school maybe one day a week.
She is not a "school refuser".
She is a brilliant, intelligent, insightful, kind, caring, compassionate autistic person.
She, like most autistics, lives with anxiety.
And it isn't due to our parenting; despite what many professionals might be saying in their lack of awareness, and parent shaming, uninformed voices.
She is perfect as is.
Even if she doesn't attend school regularly.
Many, many autistic children have been avoiding school for decades now, for many reasons, yet we continue to label them as school refusers, as broken, as needing therapy or intervention rather than actually exploring the fact that it might be the system that requires reform.
Or, that perhaps traditional schooling isn't suited to every brain.
Just as not everybody wants to be an engineer, or a security guard, or a mailman.
We are diverse.
Our brains require nourishment in many ways.
There is no "traditional" vs "non traditional", or "conventional" vs "non conventional".
There is diversity.
The either/or mentality only others and divides.
There is only diversity.
If you are parenting autistic children, if you are an autistic person, then you will have felt the desperation, the limitation of society.
The one size fits all approach.
The pressure, the fear, the rejection, the disapproval.
You may have been shamed.
Know this: this is not your responsibility.
It is a projection of the many fears and insecurities of others.
Others who have been raised in ways that have been labelled both traditional and conventional.
Also regarded as "Normal".
Better known as "Functional".
I know you feel a sense of truth underneath that pressure.
I know you see who your children are; not who you're told they should be.
The opinions, feelings, experiences and pressure from society is not your responsibility.
Raising our children in ways that are right for their diverse nature, their diverse being is our responsibility.
It is time for our autistic and neurodivergent children to thrive; in their own ways.
The ways they are born to live and thrive.
It is time for society to evolve.
For human beings to evolve.
We have all the resources right here, right now.
Strong, diverse brains.
People who think and do differently.
Collectively, we need to be empowered to stand up and speak our truth.
To share our experience.
To say "Actually, no."
It is our organic right to trust in our intuition and to make choices that are right for us.
And this begins now, with us.