Last week was Simon’s 12th birthday. He asked for a party at Chuck E Cheese, and he got it. Sure, his idea of a party is different than ours; all he wanted was some candles to blow out and some presents. He didn’t really want to play any of the games, and he pretty much ignored most of the guests. But he still enjoyed it. Even if, on one level, I didn’t.
Why didn’t I?
Because I knew that our families had blown him off. On one side, he didn’t even get a phone call or a card. On the other side, he got a card with a gift card in it…but it wasn’t even mailed until his birthday. To me, it’s horrible. It’s painful. How can they ignore him? How can they not even send an email when I mail them pictures of him in a little league uniform?
But here’s the thing: Simon’s sky is still blue.
What do I mean by that?
I started reading a book called “Headspace.” It’s an awesome book, if you haven’t read it yourself. At one point, the author talks about when he was in training to be a Buddhist monk. (He spent about 10 years training.) He had a problem with meditation, and one of the teachers told him a secret. Even when the sky is grey, when the clouds are dark, when a storm is brewing, there is still a blue sky above all of that. No matter what problems there are, there is still a sense of peace hovering, a blue sky we can tap into and know that everything is still good.
Simon is in the blue sky. He doesn’t know that I feel like the sky is grey, that I feel like there is a storm brewing. He doesn’t have expectations from these family members. He doesn’t get bothered. His sky is blue.
I thought about the blue sky when I read the news that broke on his birthday, too. A local town, Lake Jackson, had an issue in their school district. The teachers in the 5th grade class apparently offered “awards” to their special needs students. Awards like “Most Gullible” and “Drama King.” Horribly mean-spirited and something that should never happen.
When I read it, I thought that Simon would still have his blue sky in that situation, too. Even if we, as his parents, were upset, he wouldn’t be. He wouldn’t get the insults. He’d be happy.
But those people – the ones who wanted to give the awards, the teachers who thought it was okay – they’re the ones who would, in the end, suffer for their actions because of karma. Because they may not realize it, what’s they’re doing is teaching children that it’s okay to mock and tease people who don’t have the ability or knowledge to fight back or protect themselves. These children will someone be the caretakers of these adults. What if the adults have a stroke or get Alzheimer’s? And then these children – the ones who were taught it was okay to mock the defenseless – are now defenseless themselves? Maybe they don’t realize the impact of their actions, what it may lead to in the future.
Now, to be fair, I do feel it’s straight out wrong to mock or tease cruelly at all, these teachers don’t seem to feel that way, and perhaps the only way they can learn to be a good person is by thinking about how their actions will impact their own lives. Sad that they can’t be kind to people for the sake of kindness, but at the very least, you’d think they would be kind for their own sake.
Those teachers – they’re the storm. They’re the grey skies. They’re what bring us down, what make us worry, what upset us. But we have to remember that there are still blue skies up above them. That we can tap into that blue sky and stick with the positive. Because we can all be in the blue sky if we want to be.
But let me get back to that question in a moment.
First, I want to say that, as any parent of a non-neurotypical child, especially one with a speech/communication issue, I have certain nightmare situations. The biggest one is that my son will be abused or hurt by someone and will not be able to tell me that it’s happened – or happening. The thought of continued and/or repeated abuse or neglect is a huge concern, and it’s one that I can’t put aside easily. Simon’s communication is limited, and while he sometimes comes up with some awesome ways to tell us what he wants, telling us about things that he does or things that happen…well, that’s almost impossible. Just trying to find out if he had gym class or art one day leads to a multitude of questions with no way of telling what the true answer is. (Except that we always know because his teacher sends home a daily checklist.)
So with that said, let’s get into the second point: a recent occurrence in Maryland. Two teenage girls, ages 15 and 17, repeated assaulted a 16 year old autistic boy with a knife, made him perform sex acts (including with animals) and taped them on their cell phones (thank god they were stupid enough to do that), and forced him to walk on a frozen pond, making him drag himself out when he fell in. Only one girl is being charged as an adult (the 17 year old), and both are facing charges of second-degree assault, child pornography, and false imprisonment.
Now back to my question.
Why is this not a hate crime?
According to CAIR in Maryland, a hate crime is “an act that appears to be completely or partly motivated by race, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation or disability. To be considered a hate incident, the act is not required to be a crime under any federal, state, or local statue…”
Well, it sure sounds like what they did was a crime, and it also sounds like it was motivated by his disability. Would they have done this to a neurotypical boy? Doubtful. And CAIR says that in order to be a hate crime, it only need “the victim [to perceive] it as a hate crime.” Furthermore, their actions seems to also fall into the federal law definition in that the victim was selected “because of race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender or disability.”
But in this case, it does not appear that they are being charged with a hate crime.
Their actions are going to “harm…or intimidate a particular group” – those of us who fall under that broad spectrum of disability. The girls’ actions clearly harmed the boy in question, but they further intimidate those of us who are trying to allow our children to live a “normal” life; they make us question our decisions. Are we safe allowing our children to go to the bathroom by themselves in public? To attend public school? To go for a walk? All of these things are taken for granted as being “safe” (or at least as safe as they ever can be), but when actions like these come to light, we suddenly need to question that safety. We need to wonder if we are allowed to live our lives or if we will be kept locked up, locked away from the public.
Sadly, I don’t expect to see this be charged as a hate crime, but I wish it would be, and if it was local, I would get involved to see what it would take to see that happen. Maybe someone in Maryland will read this and question the prosecutor in the case, the police, anyone who may have a say or be able to help change the situation. Because when this happens, it affects all of us, and we all need to be aware and be the change.
Over the summer, I went to a wildlife park with a friend. I brought my son; she brought her granddaughter. My son was 11. Her granddaughter was 5. My son is autistic. Her granddaughter is typically developing. She was friendly, she was happy, she really thought it was a great time, and she totally wanted to interact with my son. But he wasn’t so interested in her. He wanted to look around, he wanted to take the tram ride, he wanted to pet the reindeer. He ignored her, though. He rebuffed her. She asked questions; he didn’t answer. She offered him things; he looked at her and didn’t respond. That’s when I found out that my friend had told her granddaughter that my son was “shy.” She wasn’t sure how to explain that he was autistic. Or maybe she wasn’t sure if she should tell him. Or…well, I don’t know why else she wouldn’t have told her. Regardless, part of me want to scream and shout. Part of me felt that I had no right to push the information, though. It wasn’t my granddaughter. I couldn’t tell her that her grandmother had lied, and I couldn’t tell her that her grandmother was wrong. My friend obviously had her reasons. I just disagreed with them.
If we don’t tell our children (or grandchildren, as the case might be) about these differences, then we have problems coming in the future and in our present.
But first, let me look back just a few years. It somehow reminded me of an episode of Quincy. Yes, Quincy, M.E. From the 1970s. 1978 to be exact, in the episode “A Test for Living.” The episode had a small boy who was autistic, and he ruined his sister’s birthday party by his autistic behaviors. Quincy just happened to know about autism (because, apparently, medical examiners are totally up on the new medical diagnoses in the field), and he went and tried to help the family. Meanwhile, the family wanted to lock the kid up in an asylum because they couldn’t handle him and he had all these problems. And Quincy argued for keeping him in the home and helping him because he’d had to do an autopsy on someone else who had been placed in that asylum, also for apparent autism.
What does that have to do with this problem? Lack of knowledge. If we don’t tell people about autism, they don’t know about it. It’s just that simple. And in this case, it was purposeful and unnecessary ignorance. The knowledge was had, and it was withheld. Why would you choose to keep a child in the dark about something that could affect them? Especially because it did affect her.
Which leads to the second problem – a lack of understanding. She didn’t understand why he was the way he was. She really didn’t understand why Simon wouldn’t play with her or talk to her. She didn’t understand why Simon was sitting there, repeating phrases from television shows, ignoring some of the animals, not looking when I tried to point things out to him, only answering simple questions about the names of animals and other things like that. She couldn’t understand why he didn’t care if he got to feed the animals or not.
Which then leads to the third problem – a lack of empathy. If you don’t understand why someone is doing something, or why they *have* to do something, then you don’t feel for them, either. People understand what having cancer is like. They feel for those who have it, they feel for the pain they go through, they feel for the treatment and the pain it causes, they feel for all those things. But if someone didn’t understand what cancer or its treatments were like, how could they have empathy for them? They couldn’t. Without understanding, there can’t be empathy.
Which leads to the final problem – bullying. No knowledge. No understanding. No empathy. It must be time to bully someone! Okay, so maybe those aren’t the only things that cause bullying. Bullying is far too complex to cover in a single paragraph, and it’s far too complex to break down to just a few causes. And I don’t mean to say that my friend is causing it, either. Her granddaughter seemed caring and feeling, and I don’t think that she would have made fun of Simon, regardless of her lack of knowledge and understanding. But I do think that these things do help build that basic framework that leads to more problems and that leads to bullying.
So, in my title, I said “what to do when people lie about your child’s autism.” Honestly, I don’t know what to do. My preference is to educate them so that they don’t lie anymore. Any maybe this blog can be my first step to doing just that…