Why won’t parents accept their children’s limitations?

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By Sabrina Almeida

Rosie O’Donnell’s speculation that Donald Trump’s 10-year-old son Barron could be autistic has brought the issue of parental denial into sharp focus once again. Although an outspoken Trump critic, O’Donnell claims her observation was more “informational and educational” and aimed at starting a dialogue about the disorder which afflicts her 3-year-old daughter. O’Donnell made the revelation about her child at the same time.

While Trump has neither confirmed nor denied the speculative diagnosis, wife Melania has threatened to sue O’Donnell.

What’s really at stake here is the best interests of Barron Trump. In the event O’Donnell’s observation is correct, will Barron get the assistance he requires or will his high-profile parents sweep it under the rug like so many lesser-known ones?

Several parents, especially in the South Asian community, refuse to accept any mental disability that their children may have let alone get help. Prompted perhaps by the huge social stigma (the attitude to this has not changed much) as well as the inability to accept that their child is not ‘perfect’.

With early intervention, children can learn to better cope with a mental disability like autism as well as lead more productive lives. Unfortunately, these parents may block out any warning signs or even professional diagnosis which impacts both the further development and safety of affected kids.

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Yojna Puri, president and founder of Ausum Charity for Autism said in an interview to Can-India earlier this year, “Acceptance put me in a better place to help my child.” Diagnosed at the age of 4, the support and encouragement of his family has helped 19-year-old Avnish discover and develop his hidden talent—art.

The Geneva Centre for Autism in Toronto selected one of his artworks (Frisco) for the World Autism Day e-card and his first picture (First Friend) caught the attention of the Oakville Humane Society. Two Ausum Charity gallery events aimed at creating awareness and raising funds to help autistic kids of low-income families get the much-needed IBI therapy also showcased his work.

Contrast this to another South Asian family with ample financial resources that refuses to accept the possibility despite repeated appeals from their son’s school teachers. As a result the 13-year-old continues to struggle with a regular curriculum, has discipline issues in school and is made to showcase extraordinary abilities in social gatherings which are a figment of his parent’s imagination. His inability to make eye-contact, trouble relating to others and inappropriate emotional displays which stand out to all who meet him seem to make no impact on his father who says that he too was “a slow child”. His only action has been to frequently change schools which can make it worse if his son has autism. Autistic children find it difficult to cope with change and require a regular routine.

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This is just one of many cases in the South Asian community which prefers to closet kids with special needs in the hope of protecting their secret.

While we may take a strong stand against these parents, it is necessary to acknowledge that few readily accept any academic or mental limitations that their kids may have. I met a lady who believes that children must work towards “meaningful” professions like healthcare, engineering, law or accounting. “Art, music and drama are hobbies”. She echoes the mindset of most South Asians.

A child’s interest and ability are important factors for both academic and professional success as well as happiness. Youth suicide, depression and mental breakdowns are the result of unreasonable expectations, parental bullying and the total absence of any dialogue.

Most second-generation South Asians will tell you that as children they rarely had much choice in anything—whether it was clothes, food, friends or career.

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A highly competitive post-secondary arena makes it worse for struggling children. Lack of competition (if not the complete stifling of competitive spirit) at the elementary and secondary level in most Canadian public schools makes them totally unprepared for the high stakes at university. Elementary and secondary school teachers rarely, if at all, offer suggestions for academic improvement. Their focus is more on discipline issues and ‘special needs’. The glowing comments that follow for children with an average skill at open houses and parent-teacher meetings can therefore give the parents a wrong picture.

Also, coming from a highly-competitive educational environment like India, many first-generation immigrants from here are likely to project this on to their kids. The result is children struggling to meet unreasonable parent expectations and the constant feeling they are not good enough.

What’s the solution? Often a close look at yourself. I am reminded of an article on a similar subject written by a mother who concluded that she was an average student and her child might be too! Acknowledging your child’s limitations and helping them uncover and develop their strengths is a more positive and rewarding exercise. As life coach Dennis Miller observed– all successful people are not happy, but all happy people are successful!

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