Burning your child’s past

A metal fire grate with embers inside.

Last night I saw a thread on Twitter from an individual called “Autismomum” in which she talked of burning the documents about her child’s school life in case they were discovered by the child when an adult and it upset them. Here’s the thread:

1/ Imagine this. You’re in a job you love, have a partner and drive. You have lots of friends and and are well respected in the workplace because being autistic is an asset, you are passionate and focused. One day you clear out your parents loft and you find a very large box..

2/ You look inside and find a heap of school documents about yourself. You discover at primary age you were frequently excluded. The documents clearly show nothing was done to help you. You were rejected, restrained and forced into a room where adults held the door.

3/ No, no, no. You will not discover that box when you are older, for I have put the past behind us. I love you. (Accompanied by the picture above of a fire grate with a lot of embers inside.)

I was a “special needs” child who was in a number of special units in primary school and then a ‘special’ boarding school as a teenager and my parents kept a big stack of letters and other documents about my school history which they didn’t burn and which I did read later and which didn’t tell me any traumatising details which I did not already remember. If a child was restrained, locked in rooms or otherwise physically abused, it is unlikely that they will need a file to ‘unlock’ memories when they are an adult. They will already remember.

What this file will do is help them understand decisions that were made about their lives that they may remember only one side of. It may be useful to them or their lawyers if they decide to seek compensation or may be useful for anyone else seeking to document abuses (or educational practices in general). If they believe as an adult that they had been betrayed by those supposed to help or care for them as a child, it will not help if they find that all documents relating to it have been burned, and they might not believe you if you said you did it because you thought it best for them.

I’m not normally one to join in attacks on “autism moms” as I know quite a few (some of them also autistic) but this is exactly the behaviour that gives them a bad name. If your child is capable of understanding what is in these documents, they have a right to read them and a right to know what is in them; if they are not, you may need them to secure things they need. Don’t burn their past; it’s their life as much as it is yours.

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