In homage to C.S. Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters,” How to effectively ruin a family affected by autism.
My Dear Wormwood,
I understand you’ve been assigned to a special needs family for your next Patient. Autism, to be precise. Regrettably, I am dismayed at the Administration’s dismal appraisal of your abilities (to relegate you to such a pedestrian assignment!) We must remedy this demotion and see you reinstated to a more befitting station.
Allow me to educate you on certain commonalities to this category of Patients. While each Patient with autism is gleefully inconsistent with each other, the complex disorder impacts family dynamics similarly, priming it for successful implosion.
Nephew, heed this advice. Strike aggressively as soon as the Patient Unit receives the diagnosis. Do not fail to capitalize on this moment. Parents are reeling from shock, grief and confusion. Their world has been disordered. Position yourself to take full advantage when all sense, perception and reason have been scrambled.
As low-grade panic and obsession with “The Early Intervention Window” becomes Zeitgeist (or an even better strategy: Denial), it parallels your window of opportunity to remap their emotional and relational DNA into one that is unhealthy, dysfunctional and precarious.
Climb Through That “Window”
The Patients’ home will suddenly flood with SLP’s, OT’s, ABA BCBA’s and Early Interventionists of every acronym. You must subvert parent perception of that “Early Intervention Window” as a race against time.
Infuse daily doses of panic and urgency. Convince them to pour every effort, every dollar –every waking moment—into therapy. Impress depressing images of institutionalization and “Rain Man” as their sole reference point. Convince them that The Window to cram intervention into their broken child‘s brain threatens to close, imminently, like a sponge saturated with cement and rapidly hardening shut. Reinforce the notion that if they fail to cure their child by age eight, all will be lost. And it will be, “ALL MY FAULT!”
Admittedly, such notions are inaccurate and faulty. But Truth is our Enemy. Inundate them with irrational fear and worst-case scenarios to leave no room for Truth or logic. Logic says the opportunity for intervention is life-long.
Identify the most gived-out, tapped-out moment of her day, when she is most fatigued and vulnerable. In my observation, 9:00 pm works well. It’s the first chance she’s had all day to be alone and self-directed, after the throngs of Interventionists have exited, squirrely children have been put down, and all dishes and domestic havoc have been cleared away.
With those precious remaining hours, have her expend the last fumes of energy by Googling the night away. Give her freedom to frantically search for a cure, a new trial drug unapproved by the FDA, or an anecdote of a child being cured after chelating all metals from his body. Any shred of hope to alleviate her fears and buoy her through the next 24 hours.
It will serve you well to keep the Patients distracted, fear-driven and obsessed. Make them forget that their children are children. Have them fixate on their child as a broken object that urgently requires fixing. Always keep in mind that the sooner you usher them into burnout, the easier your job will become.
Throw Mom a Pity Party For One
One parent will likely drop out of the workforce to care for the Patient’s chronic needs. Typically, it will be the mother. As she forfeits her career to become an unplanned Stay At Home Mom, Case Manager & Special Needs Advocate, intravenously inject trace amounts of frustration and bitterness into her psyche. Whisper into her ear how she’s been gypped.
Direct her energies and emotions inwards unto herself like a black hole: Have her perseverate on how her plans have been hijacked, how her life is so hard and unfair. The more you can get her to fixate on herself, the less push required to edge her down the slippery slope of self-centeredness into a victim complex, and on to a full-blown sense of entitlement.
(Hyper)Activate the Mommy-Guilt Gland
“I’m a terrible mother. I shouldn’t feel this way, especially as a Christian. Did I do something wrong in utero? It might be my fault. Or maybe it’s my genes. Am I doing enough now? Is there something else we should try? Perhaps I look into a different treatment, or doctor, or therapist, or special diet, or school district…?”
Increase the frequency of such thoughts as she gets thrown into the deep end of managing a daily deluge of multi-disciplinary therapists, medical bills and IEP paperwork. Lead her to believe that she’s the only one on the planet dealing with this,
“Why me? Why my child? Why my family? I’m the wrong parent for a disabled child. Nobody understands what I’m going through. Nobody can help me!’
Now, you and I both know there are many other Patients of the autism variety throughout the mortal world (the Administration makes sure of it.) But you must work diligently to keep her from realizing this. The moment she realizes there are others –and Hades forbid that she connects with one!– is the moment your endeavor is in grave danger.
Encourage “Mommy Martyrdom”
Special Needs parenting categorically lends itself well to this strategy. Due to the highly individualized nature of Patients with autism, no two cases are alike. Hence, there is no single plan of treatment that unilaterally benefits all. Know that there is much room to profit from this distinctive feature.
Praise be to the Master of Madness, from whom all chaos and confusion flow!
Your objective is to subvert her natural, maternal instincts into raging distrust and paranoia. With no single professional or treatment plan to definitively advise her, fuel the mother’s suspicions that everything depends on her. Any progress made is due to her choices. Any lapses or regression is due to her failures. Her child’s lifelong well-being and prognosis, all live and die exclusively by her efforts. Ingrain this neurosis as deeply as you can.
Bombard her with endless battles with school districts over IEP services, with insurance agencies over coverage, and with spouses on lack of support/appreciation/understanding. Scatter in misunderstandings with well-intended but clueless friends, family and neighbors who should not be expected to understand. And guide her to feel chagrined when they don’t. Unbeknownst to her, they did not read the manual,“How To Placate A Wounded Special Needs Mother.” You want this fact to elude her.
With enough repetitions, she’ll conclude she can only count on herself. Envelop her, then, with a cloak of resentment, a hard edge that subtly drives people away. She will interpret that as confirmation that nobody cared all along.
In time (though she’ll dare not say it out loud,) she’ll fancy herself a “Mommy Martyr,” Needing no one, trusting no one, and depending on no one but herself. Your Patient will conclude that the Enemy was not to be trusted, after all.
Oh, Wormwood, surely you see the beauty in all this!
Once Mommy Martyrdom has blossomed, the Patient easily transitions into Control Freak. You can breathe a moment at this stage. Minimal effort on your part is required to ensure that transition. If typical modern-day mothering tends towards the phenomenon of “helicopter parenting,” then Special Needs Mothers are the Stealth Bombers of the day.
Faithfully nurture all these emotions of bitterness, guilt, fear, incompetence, isolation, and despair, just as I modeled for you with that Sunnyvale Autism Mother (a textbook victory for our Cause, if I may say so myself.)
Dear nephew, inconveniently, I must pause here to tend to my own Patient. It appears he presently entertains horrid thoughts of attending a house of worship (as if any good could be gained there!) After I squelch the matter at hand, I shall resume and address the father and the rest of the family. Trust me in this: exquisite opportunities abound for undermining the entire autism Patient collective.
Let me assure you of more counsel to come. In the meantime, move expeditiously until my next correspondence.
Your affectionate uncle,
Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
~ Ephesians 6:11-13
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