Leigh Merryday Porch wrote about parenting her 10-year-old son, Callum, who has autism and is mostly nonverbal
There’s no shortage of headlines celebrating people with disabilities for defying the odds and becoming lawyers, walking for long stretches and winning beauty pageants. But one Florida mother wants the public to value people with disabilities — specifically autism — in the absence of achievements.
“The accomplishments are beautiful,” Leigh Merryday Porch, of Palatka, Florida, tells PEOPLE. “What’s disturbing are the lessons people try to take away — that if you just follow the formula someone else did, that any child with a disability can do the same. It’s oversimplified and ultimately hints that any other outcome is less worthy.”
Porch, 45, wrote candidly about parenting her 10-year-old young son Callum in a June 12 Facebook post, saying that although “beings persevering in the face of adversity is a beautiful thing,” those stories don’t always paint an accurate picture of life with a loved one who has a disability.
“Invariably, somewhere in the story is a quote that goes something like this: ‘When experts told her her son would never talk, never have friends, never graduate, she declared ‘Over my dead body,’ ” Porch wrote. “Those quotes are all sorts of inspirational — for some. But if you have a child whose disability is severe, such quotes are felt like a slap. Because some disabilities cannot be overcome.”
The post has been shared from Porch’s Facebook page more than 250 times, and parents applauded Porch in the post’s comment section.
“They can be accepted, worked with, planned for, and accommodated, but no amount of parental love and determination can erase them,” Porch continued, referring to disabilities. “Callum is not going to go to law school. He’s simply not wired for that, and I can’t rewire him. The fact that I can accept that and love him unconditionally does not reflect him having not been raised by someone willing to try harder.”
Porch, a seasoned blogger and advocate, says she decided to write the Facebook post after years of having those supposedly heartwarming stories sent to her. She says Callum, who was diagnosed with autism when he was 2, is mostly nonverbal and also has an intellectual disability.
“People with differences are just people, and we need to guard against not valuing those who lead everyday lives and who will remain significantly disabled,” Porch tells PEOPLE. “That’s not begrudging the happy stories. I love hearing about them. I just don’t love it when someone asks me if I’ve signed Callum up for music lessons, because he’s autistic and will be a music prodigy if I do.”
She says the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
Ending the post, Porch said she refused to allow Callum to be “relegated as somehow less worthy for not doing the unexpected and unrealistic.”
“The presence of an autistic adult in the world who doesn’t make the newspaper is not a statement of failure. Not of society, not of his family, and certainly not of himself,” she wrote. “And other than steadfastly insisting he be given every reasonable opportunity any other person has to live, learn, and grow, no other declarations need be made — and no dead bodies required.”