I have been binge watching Dr Phil the last few days (yes, instead of writing) and although on some episodes he is really gentle with people and has so much wisdom, at others I want to tear my hair out. There was an episode of a 21 year old girl, shown to have meltdowns (think lying on the floor screaming) which I think we can all agree on that’s it not really normal behavior at that age. I was thinking at the back of my mind that the first thing a psychologist or whatever the hell he calls himself should think of is some kind of disorder. You hear the girl say that she cannot control the meltdown. And then, more things are revealed, one of them being that she has a crazy structured routine, everything written down by the minute. Her sister was talking about some weird obsessions she has with something I can’t remember right now.
Me being a mom of an autistic child, it doesn’t take me more than 5 minutes of listening to realize that this girl likely has autism. I’m not diagnosing her but the first thing Dr Phil should have done is tell the parents that they need to take her for an evaluation. What he does though is exactly the thing we as autism parents hear all the time from uninformed, ignorant people. He tells the parents (rather, yells at them) that’s it’s all their fault. They aren’t parenting her right. If only they would do this and that she would behave better. I was ready to shatter the screen at that moment. I took this very personally.
My child is very high functioning. Which means he looks and sounds NT (neurotypical a.k.a normal) and if you’re ignorant of autism (which I was too and I don’t fault anyone about it) you will think that my child is a brat with no manners and extremely selfish. You would likely think that the parents never discipline him and he is the product of bad parenting. That’s one of the hardest things about autism. It’s an invisible SOCIAL communication disorder which make it seem very similar to a bratty child. Especially when they sound capable and normal.
Here Dr Phil had such an opportunity to say: “This situation seems like there might be more to it than her just being a brat and the cause of bad parenting, it might be wise to do an evaluation for autism.” Instead, he perpetuates the notion that our kids are just badly parented. What a waste of an opportunity. My heart went out to the parents who must already think of themselves as failures for being unable to control their child and then to hear it confirmed from a supposed “professional” (HA!)
I will end off by telling all those who are ignorant of autism; It’s a spectrum, a wide one! Every child presents differently but if you see behaviors which are not typical of the age, don’t presume bad parenting. It might just be something deeper. Yes, I know brats exists and I know bad parenting exists but for the love of G-d, you owe it to us autism parents to think before you judge.
Dr Phil, you have a wide audience, you should use it for the good, not just to drive ratings and not caring who you crush in the process.
A frustrated autism mom