Saturday, 25 July 2015

You never had a ticket for Italy: thoughts on Welcome to Holland

If you've spent any time in autism circles, you've probably come across Welcome To Holland, a piece by Emily Perle Kingsley that uses travellling to an unexpected destination as an analogy for having a child on the spectrum.  You've bought a ticket to Italy, you've tooled up on Italian phrases and been pinning Italian landmarks for months... and you land in Holland instead.  Please check your seat pocket for personal belongings before exiting the aircraft.

I've always felt uncomfortable about the piece, for ways I couldn't quite express.  But now I've figured it out:



You didn't buy a ticket for Italy. You had a ticket for an unknown destination, and that's what you got.

You might have expected it to be Italy because that's where most of your friends and family ended up, you probably wanted with all your heart for it to be Italy, or maybe the idea that it could have been somewhere else but Italy never even entered your head... but Italy was never a promise.

About seven percent of Australia's children have disability of some kind.  (Stats here)  Some of those parents would have known in advance their new arrival was going to be disabled, some would have found out at birth or shortly after, some disabilities like ASD might not become apparent for years.

And that's just disability - there are countless ways a kid might just not be who their parents were expecting or hoping for.  Clumsy kids born into families expecting sporting glory.  Tone-deaf children with parents hoping for a little Mozart.  Gay or trans* kids born into families that have a problem with that.  Kids who bear an unfortunate resemblance to a disliked great aunt.  Kids whose skin tone comes out a shade darker or lighter than their family wanted.  Children with food allergies in gourmand families.  Kids who aren't academically gifted delivered into families who expect them to be, and kids who are born into families who don't value that.  Hobbits in Elven families, Elves in families of Men, Men in Orc clans.  This analogy is getting away from me.

There are lots of people who don't 'fit' with their family.  Maybe their family resents their difference and shuns them, or maybe they're welcomed with love, respect, and utter bafflement.

But that's not because a whole lot of families bought tickets for Italy and were then diverted to The Netherlands, Spain, Singapore and Burkina Faso.  It's not because they went to one of those 'build your own cuddly toy' workshops and then on the way out were given someone else's critter instead of their own.

People are people.  When you make a new one, you get an improbable little bundle of genetics and evolution and starstuff who is utterly unique and almost entirely unpredictable.

Every child is a mystery tour. 

No matter how much you think they're a simple trip to Italy.