Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it’s right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity.~ W. Clement Stone

I am apparently a bully in the Autism community. I guess I didn’t understand that I’m not supposed to take “sides” or “support” anything but the name “Autism.” The idea of Autism as a disability is “safe.” Only upbeat and positive posts are “safe.” Isn’t that how the community got into this mess?

I posted a few weeks ago about “Vaguebooking” where people only talk about the very best parts of life. (https://oystersandlife.com/2014/09/08/vaguebooking/)  They don’t post about struggles, challenges or anything that **could** make them appear to be different. It’s like reading fairy tales all day long.

To be fair, not all the people on my friends list do this. But of the 30 or so people connected to the Autism community, only a handful post about anything but unicorns and rainbows. It’s okay if that’s what you want to post. Just don’t be angry with me for putting a damper on what you post.

Guess what? By only posting about unicorns and rainbows, people think you’ve got it all under control. That you, or your child, never struggle. That every therapy you’ve tried has been miraculous. That every diet adjustment made is a cure. It skews what people think about Autism. If you don’t live with Autism and all you read about are unicorns and rainbows, that must be what Autism is all about.

And then, tragedy hits. Again. The unicorn did a variation on what horses do. It got mad. It got ornery. But, it’s still a unicorn. Some people with unicorns can understand how someone tried to hurt their unicorn. They feel the unicorn is to blame for, well, acting like a unicorn. Others, in fact the vast majority, feel that hurting a unicorn is bad. Very, very bad. Don’t they know how precious and valuable unicorns are?

The reality is, unicorns poop. They mash the grass with their hoofs. They have to be fed special diets. They require grooming. And time, lots and lots of time. It’s hard work keeping a unicorn safe and happy. But we do. Many, many of us get up every day knowing how hard things are and yet, we keep our unicorns safe and warm and healthy and happy.

It never crossed my mind to kill my unicorns. Yes, they look different from horses. Yes, they act different from horses. But they’re my special unicorns. My gift of magic to cherish and take care of forever. Taking care of them is harder than taking care of a herd of horses. But the beauty I see when they’re around makes it all worth it.

So call me a bully. Label me wrong. Yell out Instigator! Because it’s true. I support self-advocacy. I support stricter legislation for caregivers who harm their disabled charges. I support boycotting an organization that tells people that Autism is a crisis. That Autism is a violent, daily struggle. That Autism must be cured.

I don’t want horses. Unicorns are awesome! If you were to take away their magic, unicorns would be just horses. You’ll work just as hard tending a horse as you will tending a unicorn. A horse means you’re just like everyone else. If that’s your goal, go for it. Try every diet, cure and therapy in hopes of taking away the magic. I choose to love and nurture my unicorns.

Because without a little magic, the world looks a lot dingier.

Change Should Happen, But…

Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.~ Edmund Burke

Another eye-opening day for me. I had the opportunity to visit the elementary school my children attended many years ago. This time I was the outsider, unknown to most of the staff. The school has had three principals and four assistant principals in the last eleven years. It went from being highly sought after as a placement to being on a watch list for poor performance. Not to inject too much politic…but my school mill levy has tripled in the last 11 years. My home state just shot down a state tax increase for education. And, surprise, our politicians can’t seem to understand why no one wants to give money to education.

But, I digress. After the meeting inside the school, I sat outside and observed recess for 4th and 5th grade. I was sitting in my parked vehicle. Lest you leap to the conclusion that I had some bizarre reason for watching, I was with a parent who wanted to see why her kid was being “written up” for inappropriate conduct during recess. What we saw was very enlightening.

The past…when my son was in 3rd grade at this school, two kids pinned him face down in the gravel and stomped n his back until he was bruised and peeing blood. The school insisted it could not have happened under their watch. I’m pretty sure I would have remembered if it had happened under my watch. He didn’t leave for school in that condition, he came home off the bus in that condition, ergo this happened at school. Oh no, I was told. Our students are supervised by four adults who each stand in a corner of the playground watching for these things. Well, I got mad and filed a complaint which was not well received, but was litigated out in favor of my son. The terms included increased playground supervision.

Today, I watched four women (3 teachers/ 1 para-professional) stand together in a cluster by the door with their backs to the playground. I saw students practicing what I can only assume was their form of martial arts – by hitting and kicking each other.  I watched a female student jump on a male student’s back for a piggy back ride. I saw 6 children attempting to build a human pyramid, only to have a seventh child come over and push the top child off so all came tumbling down. I watched a child fall off playground equipment and limp away in tears. A bit later, I watched as 4th grade girls jumped on their male teacher (two providing supervision for over 100 students) and he provided piggy back rides. I watched children throwing rocks at passing cars. I think you get the idea.

What I didn’t see was supervision. Yes, there were adults out on the playground. Most of the time, they had their backs to the students and were engaged with each other. The parent I was with wanted to know how many of these other students had been written up. I told her I would have to say none as the adults weren’t watching.

We all wonder where bullying comes from and how it goes so far, so fast. In 30 minutes of observation coupled with my prior experience and that of the parent with me, I can safely say that it’s because kids will be kids and if the environment is right, they will hurt each other. I have absolutely no doubt that what happened to my child could easily happen to another child at that school.

Before everyone berates me for being a helicopter parent, let me just point out that this was one snapshot, eleven years after my son’s incident, and nothing has changed. The school and the district have not held up their end of the bargain. It’s not a matter of what ifs. It’s only a matter of when. There is enough money in the district budget to send teachers on two-week fully paid “trainings” for curriculum in Canada but not enough to ensure adequate and appropriate supervision on the property. There is a cry for safety in schools and yet not even the most basic situational awareness was demonstrated today. I sat in a parked car for 30 minutes, outside an elementary school playground and no one questioned me. I saw children almost a quarter-mile from an adult and the adult wasn’t watching. We don’t need to wrap our kids in plastic bubbles, be we should expect that someone knows what’s going on.

So, I leave you with this thought: History does repeat itself. When we fail to learn from our mistakes, it repeats itself more frequently. Throwing money at the problem isn’t always the solution. Sometimes, you need to look at yourself and ask if you’re doing the best you can do at your job in life.