Time Out is a Lie Created by the Devil (and More Practical Advice for our Daughter’s Alleged Autism)


There are few perks that come with the severity of Teghan’s autism. We will take what we can get. Falling lower on the spectrum makes her autism more obvious- and with that comes easier acceptance and understanding from others. If there are services to be qualified for, it is usually an open and shut case. If there is a meltdown in public, most people catch on right away to what is really happening. People overall seem to be more supportive and less judgmental. Even those loud mouths out there who believe autism is not real do tend to accept our case as a true example. How wonderful.

I think it mostly has to do with the fact that Teghan is nonverbal. It’s an automatic clear disability to most. And, most not really understanding that much about autism, they are willing to accept it as proof. But this has very little positive impact on our lives. It mostly involves people who don’t know us and who we may never see again (if we have seen them at all).

We would gladly take judgmental stares and accusations if it meant we could have a conversation with our daughter.  On the other hand, it would also cause us additional anxiety, stress, and anger to have everyone doubt the validity of her autism. It would possibly make us feel even more afraid for our child’s future in such a cruel world. Actually, we know exactly how it would make us feel, because we have experienced it from our own family.

The first time Dave’s parents visited us after Teghan’s diagnosis, Teghan was three years old. She did not talk to them. She did not attempt to interact with them in any way, except for dragging them to an item she wanted so she could place their hand on it. She didn’t smile at them, wave goodbye, or make eye contact. She did not play with toys. She tapped on things, galloped back and forth, and wore a diaper. She was everything you would expect out of a child with classic autism.

My mother-in-law meant well when she argued with me that this was all normal three year old behavior. That Teghan was too young to care about playing, and that she was obviously trying to talk with all those vocal noises. She made it clear that we were letting Teghan get away with bad behavior by not spanking her. She believed we were using autism as an excuse. Maybe she wanted us to feel hopeful for a cure. But it was as if my mother-in-law was the good guy- defending Teghan from the mother who would give her own daughter a label as ugly as autism. 

You see, Dave’s mom believed autism was just one of many lies created by the liberal media. I shouldn’t be too offended- she was also in disbelief that we recycled our cans. We live in Michigan, who doesn’t recycle their cans here? Well, she sure wouldn’t. She says the government can’t afford it, because big surprise- she has no idea how recycling in Michigan works.

It was not until a few months later, on a family vacation, that Teghan’s behavior would begin to challenge her theory. In a room full of our nieces and nephews, Teghan wandered around as if no one was even there. While her younger cousin played silly pretend games and chattered away, I imagine my mother-in-law was starting to comprehend that something might really be different about Teghan. She was hopefully starting to consider that it may be more than something that could just be beaten out of her.

Not everyone was so easily convinced. Dave’s sister and brother-in-law lasted five minutes into the family vacation before they were lecturing us on God’s desire for us to love our children enough to spank them. They were meeting Teghan for the first time, but had surely heard about her alleged “autism.” It’s our fault, really. We had the incredible audacity to use time out as a means of redirecting and calming Teghan. Why? Because it works for us. But, we were immediately informed that time out is a lie created by the devil.

Now, we do not spank Teghan. Forget Autism. Children can be corrected through appropriate consequences, and there are plenty more effective consequences than physical pain. We do not feel that spanking prepares them for consequences of adulthood. In biblical times I am sure it may have indeed prepared them. But I am not going to get into all of that here. Dave’s sister and her husband are very conservative in their views. They were uncomfortable with me working outside of the home, and felt Dave needed their blessing to become a stay at home dad. So a discussion on corporal punishment is going to be pointless. They spank their newborn baby because they believe newborns often cry out of anger, and that anger is part of a sinful nature. You know what I think? I think spanking a newborn is abuse. The fact that we clearly disagree so completely on this issue made their confrontation and advice that much more insulting.

Okay, so I got a little sidetracked with the whole spanking thing.

The point is, the stigma has become so bad that even as parents of a child with classic autism, we find it difficult to convince some in our own family that it is real. In public we usually face little judgment, but I have seldom mentioned Teghan’s autism in conversation with someone who has never met her. Why should I feel like I have to clarify my daughter’s symptoms just to avoid eye rolls?

If Teghan could communicate, all of her other issues would be dismissed by our misinformed family members as bad parenting. We would eventually just have to decline all family events, and we would have that much less of a support system. I wonder how many other families experience this? Is it politics, a general suspicion of each other, or just a fear of autism? If it’s not real, it can’t happen to my child…. Maybe it is all of those things.

In any case, people need to stop responding with gut reaction to things they don’t understand. Like my mother-in-law not understanding Michigan recycling laws. She immediately attacked our recycling cans as a horrible big government plot. The correct response would have been to ask us how that works. She doesn’t know how it works, so what other response could there be? Silence would also have been acceptable. But like autism, I suspect people just aren’t interested in the details. People have a way of categorizing things instantly. To be fair, Dave’s mom has come a long way and has been willing to learn. I cannot say the same for everyone else out there.

I think if you make the decision to not know about something, you should cease to have opinions about it.

14 thoughts on “Time Out is a Lie Created by the Devil (and More Practical Advice for our Daughter’s Alleged Autism)

  1. Really enjoying your blog. My in laws are also in denial about our 4 year old son , though more in being perpetually and ridiculously optimistic that he will suddenly break out in sentences and stop squealing and hand flapping. When he was 2 1/2 , my mother in law claimed to know oodles of boys who did not speak until they were 3. Now at 4 it seems those same kids she all knew did not in fact speak until almost 5. All she is doing is affirming that she does not find him acceptable the way he is. Blah , right? Keep on writing 🙂

  2. So sad but true. At the beginning of our journey the in laws also felt there was “nothing wrong” with DS and he just needed more discipline. We’re dealing with SPD and Asperger’s so sometimes the signs aren’t always there for others to see. But why do we have to justify our children to their grandparents who supposedly love them so much? In our case, they don’t know the real DS, and they never will. They only see what they want to see and that’s very sad that they will never know or accept him for who he truly is. We sore subject in our house 🙁

  3. =’) it feels so good to finally be able to relate to somebody on such a personal level. My own mother told me a year after my son was diagnosed with Autism that he was not Autistic because he was not (and please forgive me for quoting her) “retarded”… those were her words… and as many people as i have ever spoken to about it have never been able to relate that a memeber of their close family could deny so ignorantly what is plain to the rest of us… it is isolating to have somebody whom you need to understand and support you, be completely closed minded about the difference in all children on the spectrum. At this time my son was still non verbal.. and he was 3 and a half nearly 4 years old…. she still refuses to accept it; even after diagnosis…. im sorry for your in laws views (all of them..) hopefully in this time when Autism isn’t so rare anymore they will come to understand it to some extent as to accept that it exists.

  4. Hi Jenny, Cousin Ali here! Feel your pain, totally. Our 17 year old daughter was (finally) diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome about 2 years ago. I knew she was on the spectrum since she was born, but of course we were told repeatedly that “girls don’t get autism/asperger’s” . Yeah…. right. (WRONG!) She is very verbal–testing with the verbal IQ in the genius level. However, socially she is about as adept as a 2-3 year old as far as coping, empathy and reasoning. She can also be extremely agressive/violent if she doesn’t get her way. She has been this way since she was born and she has been blessed by every intervention known to man–not the least of these being constant prayer. She hasn’t changed that much, although I like to think that she changes people daily. We often get accused of “making” her this way by a lack of parenting. It is easy to become discouraged, but there are many resources available and we are very blessed to have a loving family who strives to understand and supports our choices/decisions. If I can ever be an ear or a voice for you and Dave, please let me know! XXOO!!! Allison

  5. Seems like a common theme in a lot of families. Thanks for all the encouragement! And Ali- good to hear from you 🙂 Dave’s parents try to be supportive in their way, but their lack of understanding is frustrating. They do ask more questions now. Dave’s dad randomly sends us articles in the mail on autism…. But they still believe she is just going to snap out of it any day now. Well, at least Dave’s mom does- dad is pretty quiet in general. Baby steps. I haven’t given up hope with them yet. I don’t think Dave’s sister and husband will ever take us serious about it, though. Ever. Oh well. Right now we are living in Michigan near most of my family. They are all very supportive. I even have a cousin with autism who attends the same school as Teghan. Thanks again for your encouragement, all of you!

  6. thanks for sharing, reminds me how blessed i am to have family support on both sides! your story makes me cringe though to think that there are actually still people out there who claim that God wants us hitting our children (we use smacks occasionally but i agree with you on the newborn thing!!! and obviously autism is not ‘fixed’ with smacking) all children respond better to any form of disciple when it is outweighed by love, kindness, encouragement, gentleness etc etc – much like God treats his children (us) really!
    i am excited to discover your blog thanks to a share by autism daddy. my bailey 4.5 is high functioning and i do often think…if it were a little more obvious at least people would understand, not judge etc. but your correct that being able to converse with him and be admitted into his world is well worth the looks by people who i don’t care to know! 🙂 thank you again for your way of sharing truths!! xo

  7. Pingback: Parenting and the Problem of Proverbs « Jason Hague

  8. Jenny, this post breaks my heart on a few levels. I’m an autism dad (my 6 year old son sounds like your little girl), and I’m a pastor who abhors this type of attitude. I just linked to this post in an article I wrote about parenting and mis-using pieces of the bible. I told this part of your story there as well. Here it is, if you’re interested.

    Thank you for your gut-level honesty. I hope and pray that your family starts to “get it” soon.

    • Thank you- it gets a little better all the time 🙂 I really enjoyed your article, and shared it with some Facebook friends. I love your thoughts on Proverbs versus promises. I am glad you found me!

  9. I’m lucky, my family are understanding. But in town one day an older lady started attempting to talk to my daughter- non-verbal. I politely explained she is unable to talk and was shocked at the ‘simple solution’ the lady came up with- to ‘smack her into talking’! I was furious, and suggested that smacking the ignorance out of bigots such as her would be far more effective. She walked on very quickly!

  10. Thank you for sharing this. My son’s bio-dad doesn’t believe he has autism. In fact, we divorced over it. It’s been seven years since our diagnosis, but he still thinks it’s something I made up to get attention (his new wife even says it’s Munchausen’s by Proxy) and that our son is “just slow.” Unfortunately I still have to send my son over there for visitation even though I’ve been to court four times. I had no idea there were lots of people who think that way, I thought I had just found the one person in the world who was that stupid and married him! Obviously I need to get out more.

    • It’s too bad for your ex. He will never be as close to his son if he isn’t willing to try and understand him better. It’s funny how people decide things about topics they really know nothing about, and then stick to those assumptions no matter what. Be careful if you start getting out more- encountering more of these people isn’t really a good thing 🙂 And they are everywhere. Thanks for reading!

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