Friday, May 19, 2023

Holding Individuals, Parents, or Society Accountable When A Child Has No Friends?

I saw the following comment on a peer support Facebook group today...

"It is so important for you to find your neurodivergent (ND) child somewhere they truly belong"

And I'm glad it was written so I can comment on a very common issue and framing I see everywhere, find problematic, and want to highlight and adjust. My suggested replacement for this sentence was...

"it is so important for collective society to be held accountable for finding your ND child somewhere they truly belong."

When we say "go find it", it can imply that such a somewhere exists. For some, it does. For others though, an under-discussed reality is that such a place of belonging does not exist. Or, if not literally "non-existent", that it is so rare and so out of reach as to be wholly inaccessible. Which is functionally the same thing as non-existent as far as their personal lived reality is concerned. Does society recognize these hard truths? Here are the two most common reactions I see in my peer advocacy work:

1) Gaslights and Denies These Realities

Such replies as: "You're wrong! Community does exist, you just haven't found it". 

What did I just say above? No, it doesn't. It could. It should. For many circumstance, no it does not. It is either literally non-existent (no-one is accepting them) or functionally non-existent (inaccessible or extremely high barrier or low probability of accessibility). 

2) Holds Parents or ND Individuals Solely Accountable (and Makes Others/Society 0% Accountable) For Building Somewhere to Belong

Sometimes lack of accepting social group will be validated as real and not gaslit. What happens in those scenarios is a discussion of responsibility. An accepting social group will need to be built. Who is responsible for building it?

In the vast majority of such conversations I encounter, the answer is either...

A) Not society. You have to build it yourself

B) Surely someone is already building it. 

B is often (not always) untrue, and is functionally just another variant of point #1 above.

For A, there's some nuance here. It is sometimes possible to self-build. The Facebook group where this discussion was found is a testament to that. But it is also, as reality, often astoundingly hard to downright impossible to "build it yourself". You might not be able to try. If you do try, finding acceptance might have potential to occur but the chances might be super low. For example, thousands of people make Facebook content no-one engages with. Who or what do we fault for that state of affairs?

Who we're not faulting in these scenarios is - other people. Where's the burden placed on other people to do their own work to be more accepting? Where are community programs to foster genuine acceptance that aligns with the person-in-need's self-defined comfort? Where is accountability on others instead of solely on the individual? 

This "only ever blame the individual and never the world they inhabit" is very common in modern hyper-individual, neoliberal Western cultures. While personal strength and personal responsibility matter, taken to this extreme it's an impossible and fictional standard to hold others to. 

Concluding Thoughts

We don't all need to be best friends, but most of do need places to belong. A society that allows high levels of intolerance and rejection, along with taking 0% communal accountability if folks have nowhere to belong to, is deeply unjust and deeply immoral behavior. Period.

And the fictions of "they do have somewhere to go" or "they can build it themselves" serve as false narrative to justify that lack of communal accountability. 

Put it all together, and you create a world where people are suffering through no fault of their own, told it is their own fault, and no steps are being taken to address the underlying societal-level failures. Holding individuals or parents to an ironclad standard of "it's definitely achievable so quit whining and go achieve it" is destructive and abusive advice. This is social illness, not mental illness. This is social failure, not individual failure. Stop treating individuals. Start diagnosing and treating society. 

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This article brought to you by the Peer Voices Network. 

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