There is a phrase I’ve seen used on multiple occasions in online Autism circles and spaces – “I am my child’s voice.”
Often, mainly when we are younger, our parents do speak on our behalf, making sure our needs are met with the expectation that, eventually, we will take over advocating for ourselves one day.
For those of us who have disabilities, especially if those disabilities can impact how we communicate our needs with other people, we may need additional support from our caregivers for longer than people who struggle less to share in the ways society expects us to.
Even if it takes us longer to get from point a to point b, the eventual goal should be to help that person reach their version of autonomy and success – whatever that looks like for that particular person.
Some of us may never communicate exactly like everyone else. We need to accept that and start empowering those people with additional communication differences to communicate in ways that suit them – instead of demanding them to accommodate everyone else.
“Speaking with one’s mouth is NOT the only way people can share things.”
I prefer typing and reading over all other forms of communication, widely due to my auditory processing difficulties and struggles with working memory to get my thoughts out at the speed and accuracy needed for optimum face-to-face conversations without considerable scripting.
My voice has never been the voice that comes out of my mouth. My most authentic voice comes from my fingertips dancing over a laptop keyboard.
It was a voice that was unlocked with my first laptop in high school. I got to take my used, 10-year-old, hand me down laptop to all my classes because many of my teachers required me to type my work. After all, my handwriting was impossible to read.
It took me years to find my voice in a word processor, but I eventually found it.
Luckily, because I did speak out loud, nobody claimed my voice as their own.
When I hear the phrase “I am my child’s voice,” I have a knee-jerk reaction because I hate this phrase for many reasons. Even though this sentence rubs me the wrong way, I DO understand why people say it.
The people who use this phrase (or have used this phrase at one time or another) are likely to be our parents, loved ones, and allies. People who often want to help ensure we have everything we need to live our best lives in a society that’s not built for us.
Having allies is a good thing. We need supporters, people who will speak up on our behalf respectfully.
Because allies are often members of the majority, they usually have power and can use that power dynamic to help upset the status quo. Often allies can help members of marginalized communities by helping to clear paths for us to advocate for ourselves.
“Many people who claim to be their child’s voice may not understand or intend the implications, tone, and harm that can come with this loaded sentence – I AM my child’s voice.”
When I hear this phrase, I want to scream back, “you aren’t their voice. You are their amplifier” because when you say you “ARE their voice,” I wonder if you are speaking on behalf of your child’s wishes, or speaking over them?
I try to give the benefit from the doubt when I hear this, but a lot of my experience with people who use this phrase hasn’t been great.
If it were up to me, I’d chuck this sentence in the trash and be done with it.
This month, I wonder, so I ask the online Autistic Community what they think when they hear someone say they are “their child’s voice.”
How do you feel about the phrase, “I AM my child’s voice?”
I am my child’s voice interpreter, not his voice – Dr Catherine Boisvert, @SharkEvoDevo
When my mom was “my voice” she told me “I had to work twice as hard to do the same thing” and that resulted in me not getting any help that I desperately needed. My life has radically improved since I’ve been my own voice. I’ve gotten my needs met and support. – Alexander Low (they/them), @alexthelow
As an autistic person and a mother of an autistic child I hate it. I’m not my child’s voice. I am his advocate and his translator. – Elise Kumar, @elisekumar
“I amplify my child’s voice so that he’s heard for miles and miles” just settles with me a bit better. At least this is what I’ve always said. – Jen Brick, @isntJen
Complicated. 1st: No. [You] are not their voice. 2nd: I’ve been in the position of having to advocate/argue for my dyslexic/LD kid with school officials. I wouldn’t have said I was her voice, but also the kid wasn’t in a position of power where she felt able to speak for herself. – Jinx Mylo, @jenmylo
It’s definitely a red flag. Sometimes it can be just poor phrasing, and they do listen to their child and amplify the child’s own wishes, which is good. But far more often they’re actually speaking *over* their child. – Emily, @invisiblegirl99
Hate! Especially given the number of parents who still deprive their children of access to language because it’s not the way they want them to communicate. – Lydia Johnson, @annbonny
Unless there child is a literal infant under age 2 then no that’s not true. Kids understand “me” and consent once they’re toddlers. There is a way to find out their wishes. There’s AAC and body language. – Alice (ae/aem), @TheHorrorOf97
It’s also triggering for me, personally. Especially as an Aut mom of an Aut kid. Having the audacity to speak over an Autistic, let alone an Autistic parent of an Autistic kid tells you a lot about what they actually think about their kid. – EmmaLee Chickentender @EChickentender
Annoying as hell. Not to mention that it shows a serious lack of “theory of mind” on these parent’s behalf. Most people (yes, autistic people included), would realize that a child has different thoughts and motivations from their parents. Even a non-speaking one. – Katie (she/her), Katie_WPG
We believe it’s another disgusting take on people being possessive and controlling of small humans. It is completely invalidating to the child actually having their own voice be it verbal or not. A healthier version would be “I am a supporter and advocate for my child’s needs.” – Jcrew Lovejoy/Sm0keybubblez, @JcrewLovejoy