Closed mind

A few years ago, almost 5 to be exact, I embarked a journey. I decided to utilize a service dog to help mitigate some of the problems my disabilities cause. It was not a decision I made lightly. Up until then, I had owned pet dogs. You know, the kind that come when they feel like it and maybe sit for 2 seconds. I was about to train a dog for some very specialized work, so I went looking for answers.

At first, I did what we all do. I joined every social media group relating to service dogs. I bookmarked page after page of organizations and blogs that related to service dogs. There was lots of information, At the time, I didn’t know anything about training so it all seemed valid.

And then I was schooled. People started criticizing the breed of dog I was training, the type of leash I used, the way I walked, the words I used to train and pretty much everything else I did. At first, it was confusing. Then it became downright hurtful. I learned that there are people in the service dog community that only want to tear down in the name of helping.

I also learned there are poseurs, liars, cheats and downright hostile individuals in the service dog world. I shouldn’t be surprised because, well, they’re people and you’ll find that all types across humanity. I became disillusioned and decided to leave all that behind. Unfortunately, it still occasionally catches up with me.

Poseurs, or people who think they are the best trainer EVER, still catch me off guard. They look good. They talk a good talk. And then, comes the walk. The walk reveals that they really don’t know what they are doing. The walk reveals that they lack the true insight into working with dogs to get the best results. The walk reveals that their dog is nothing more than a highly trained pet.

They’re not the fakers you hear about in the news. These people do have disabilities that could be mitigated by a service dog, which is what the law requires if you’re going to work a dog. Yet, their dogs just lack….something. It makes me uncomfortable to be around a dog that doesn’t “work.” Yes, I know “work” looks different across the board. These people just seem to have a dog.

My first instinct is to try to figure out why I feel this way. Then I want to help. Which is when I get smacked upside the head. You would think I learned my lesson by now. It’s like raising a child. No one really wants your thoughts because they already KNOW everything and feel their way is the best way. I’m left wondering why people even ask for comments if all they are going to do is get pissed off and lash out.

So, here I am. Five years of service dog training and handling experience that apparently means nothing to anyone but me. Forty-five years of living with dogs and learning about their behaviors, which also means nothing to anyone but me. A sense of wonder at why people refuse to accept that there may be other ways to do things. To consider that there are vast amounts of knowledge at their fingertips that could make their journey easier.

I guess it’s all in your attitude. Are you willing to accept that someone else may have ideas that could help you? Or are you firmly entrenched in your views and unwilling to see what others see? A closed mind is the biggest disability out there.

PS: While this is about service dogs, you can plug in just about any noun and it will still apply.

Divided

Not for the first time, the Autism community is divided. In a widely publicized case, a mother attempted to murder her daughter and then commit suicide. It didn’t go as planned and the mother is now in jail while the daughter is home with her father and two siblings. Apparently, the child’s behavior drove the mother to this act. The television show that interviewed the mother showed the same video of the daughter hitting the mother over and over. It seemed like that was the only footage available. There were no pictures of the happy times, although if you search YouTube you can find several videos of this nature. The television show played right into the belief that anger and violence are the number one characteristics of people with Autism.

It’s not that way. It’s never been that way. But like all stories, it’s easier to grab attention by pointing out the most egregious parts of a story. The public’s perception of Autism needs to change.

I speak from many viewpoints. I am Autistic. I have 2 children who are Autistic. I am a special needs teacher who worked¬†in classrooms dedicated to Autism. I also taught in classrooms dedicated to behaviorally challenged kids. And I taught in a resource classroom. I’ve taught grades K-21. I’m 46 years old. My kids are now young adults. So yes, I have a certain amount of perspective.

I’ve been hit by students. Punched. Bit. A dislocated shoulder here, a broken foot there and throw in a MRSA infection for good measure. I’ve had parents refuse to answer their phone during the school day because they just needed a break. I get that living with an individual with any disability is challenging. People with more challenges are more challenging to live with.

But, does that give me the right, or even moral authority, to murder someone?

The discussion on social media is all about how the mother needed more support. How she clearly isn’t in her right mind. And how her daughter’s behaviors put here in this position. Parents of children with severe Autism are making the mother out to be a victim. I guess you can put it that way. She is a victim of society, of people wanting to believe nothing like this could ever happen in their backyard. Of a society that, despite cries for help, turned a deaf ear.

But the daughter had no say in this. Her disability is such that her communication is physical. She can’t speak. She can’t tell anyone her story. She certainly didn’t tell her mother she wanted to die.

Division. Autism is a spectrum disorder. The impairments vary wildly. It is usually parents of children who are severely affected who want cures. Who send virtual hugs to a mother who thinks murder is okay. They’ve been there, they understand. No one else can possibly understand their lives, so they must sympathize.

And then there’s the rest of us. High enough functioning to fit, sort of, in society. Slow, quirky, anxious. But we’re managing. And many of us do not want to be cured. Many of us see Autism as an integral part of our personalities. It’s in our character. After living with Autism for 40+ years, I wouldn’t know what to do if it suddenly disappeared.

The face of Autism does NOT exist. We look just like you. We’re not monsters or mass murderers. We’re your friends, neighbors and co-workers.

We’re also members of your community, regardless of how we function or communicate. Years of hiding and denying that people with moderate to severe disabilities even exist has created an environment where non-disabled people are shocked by disability. Then they latch on to the “normal” aspect and minimize the damage caused by trying to fix something that is innate in an individual.

Yes, we need more services. Yes, we need more support. But most of all, we need acceptance.

You knew me as a child and called me an introvert. You knew me as teenager and called me quirky. You knew me as a young adult and called me weird. You knew me as a co-worker and called me eccentric. You know me as an adult and I know there’s room for all of us.