Autism, Culture, and Representation

Jasmine’s Mother

Jasmine’s mother sat at the kitchen table and watched as Priya led her daughter to her seat. She watched as Priya handed her daughter her plate of food. Jasmine’s mother watched as Jasmine stared down at her plate, eating quickly. Priya guided Jasmine out of the room and to the car below.

**

Jasmine’s mother remembered the family reunion 10 years ago. She remembered how Jasmine had sat in the corner of the room, hunched over and focusing intently. The other kids were all outside playing cricket, but Jasmine had refused to go with them. She sat there, drawing portraits of each family member present. Jasmine’s mother tried to tell her to put away the drawing pad and go play with the other kids, but she would’t listen. The brothers and sisters, uncles and aunties, paattis and thathas, were all watching them; they would turn to look towards the corner, stare, then turn to the person beside them and whisper in disapproval.

Finally, Jasmine’s mother grabbed the drawing pad from Jasmine. Jasmine reached for it, yelping with discomfort. Her mother set the drawing pad on the ground, grasped Jasmine’s hand, and quickly pulled her outside of the room and away from the watchful eyes of the family.

I’m really glad that this exercise gave us the opportunity to further expand on the character we previously developed. It was really interesting for me to approach my character’s life from behind the eyes of her mother. I found this to be a lot easier than the previous exercise because in developing my autistic Jasmine character, it had been necessary for me to understand the family dynamics in her household. I had already thought about what her parents and their relationship was like, so writing this character description came a lot more naturally.

Part of me wanted to branch out and explore some of the parenting controversies that really complicate the roles of parents, but I decided to stick with the story that I had started because I felt like I would rather delve deeper into this family. Just as autism manifests itself very differently in children, parents of autistic children react in a variety of ways to their child’s autism.

I found that Jasmine’s mother largely fits Sinclair’s description of autistic parents. She is someone who mourns her child’s autism as a deviation from the norm so much so that she finds herself embarassed and ashamed of Jasmine’s behavior. Although Jasmine has been diagnosed with autism, it is something that remains unspoken. Jasmine’s parents have not confided in anyone about her diagnosis, not even Jasmine herself.

If I had more time and space, I would further explore Jasmine’s mother’s ways of coping with Jasmine’s autism and how she tries to ‘normalize’ Jasmine. I would examine how Jasmine’s autism was first discovered, and how her parents reacted to the diagnosis. It would be interesting to look at how things within the household changed and how their interactions with Jasmine were different.

I think that autistic parents are often pitied by the general public as though having an autistic child is a heavy burden. While autistic parents may misunderstand autism, I think that many are often misunderstood themselves. Autistic parents are stereotyped and looked at differently just as their children are.

In places like India, I think many parents of autistic children have a similar attitude as Jasmine’s mother does. That being said, I think that this is stereotyping and is not entirely fair either. Autistic parents react to their child’s diagnosis in very different ways, but I do think that the society around them has an effect on their reactions.

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