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.

Less Than

All around the world, people are determined to be less than human. Women and girls are treated as property to be sold. Or killed. Ethnic minorities are annihilated. Groups are literally clawing their way into power so they can dictate how others may live. There is always someone who is seen as less than deserving.

Those are examples that I see in the news. They are distant. Yes, I suffer from NIMBY syndrome sometimes. But if you recognize the name Malala, you know that these atrocities are happening…daily.

In my own backyard, today marks a day of shame. Most of you have probably never heard of Issy Stapleton. Issy has a severe form of Autism. Last year, her mother decided the best course of action was to murder Issy and herself. She did not succeed. The mother is in jail, having pled down to child abuse a few weeks ago. A major media figure is interviewing her today. The mother is a victim in his view, because Issy is too much to take care of.

The way it works in my city, attempted murder is attempted murder. There may be extenuating circumstances, but it’s still attempted murder. Why then is the mother receiving so much sympathy and recognition? Because Issy has a disability.

People with disabilities are often seen as “less than.” Less than capable. Less than worthy. Less than valuable. Less than necessary. Less than human.

Yes, this family needs support. The services that Issy needs aren’t available. It’s not just Issy. I know my city fails at meeting the needs of people with disabilities. I know that many schools feel it is appropriate to request a parent to medicate their child into compliance rather than figure out what the child really needs.

We have failed. In our eagerness to create equality, we have left our most vulnerable behind. In our rush to make “more” out of people, we have discarded those we don’t feel have value. Every life has value.

Now think about what you can do. Take some time out of your day and look at your neighbors. How many of their names do you know? You can effect change. Reach out to others and develop real, live friendships instead if sending virtual hugs. Don’t be afraid to say hello. Sometimes, just knowing that a person cares is enough. Other times, knowing you can reach out and ask for help is a treasure.

Don’t try to put yourself in the mother’s shoes. Issy is the victim. Issy is reaching out the only way she knows how. Can you hear her?