Don’t get me wrong, I know that I’m going to find insensitive people just about everywhere. But I didn’t expect to find them in out-patient therapy. (If you want to know why I’m currently in out-patient therapy, you can check out my other blog about my mental issues…)
Anyway, so the other day in therapy, while she was talking, one of the other women – let’s call her Zelda – said that her brother was Autistic, and he was around her age. She’s about 60, ready to retire, and he’s living at home with their parents still. She pointed out that, at the time, they didn’t have much they could do to help him, but she felt like it was better now. She commented that he was the family’s project. I thought about talking to her then, but I decided against it.
So the topic was put to bed, and no one else talked about it…until…
Something came up, and she asked me, before therapy started, about whether or not I had any children. Of course, I said, yes, I have a son, he’s 13, and he’s Autistic. Zelda asked a few questions, and when I explained that he was fairly moderate to severe on the spectrum, she said, “Oh, that’s bad.”
“No, it’s not,” I corrected her. “It’s not bad at all. It’s just what he is.”
She back-pedaled. She didn’t mean it *that* way, you know. She was only trying to say that she knew it was hard. Okay, I’ll take that. It’s hard on him. It’s hard on us. It’s hard on his teachers. It is hard. But it’s not bad.
Which might be why I was already in the fight-or-flight mode when another woman, let’s call her Aileen, said that she was there because of anxiety and her family. Her family drove her crazy, she said. They wouldn’t leave her alone. Even when she tried to take a walk by herself, they wanted to come with her.
“It’s so retarded.”
Yup. She said that. About the fact that her family wanted to be around her all the time.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that they’re stupid for wanting to be around her all the time. But I do think she’s pretty uninformed to use the r-word in a psych setting.
But no one said anything. Not even the therapist leading the session.
Because I’m not one to shy away from confrontation when it’s appropriate, I went ahead and raised my hand.
“Hey,” I said, “I’m sure you didn’t mean it this way, but, see, I’m part of this movement. Spread the word to end the word. The word is retarded. I know you just said it, but that’s kind of the problem. It’s pretty insulting to use it as an insult. My son has intellectual disabilities, and so I’m kind of sensitive to hearing it…”
I know I said more than that, and she looked a bit surprised.
I brought up the need to be respectful of all people, and I pointed out how if she was had said something that insulted another group of people, I still would have brought it up because it is disrespectful to insult anyone, especially if they’re not there to defend themselves.
She was cool with it. She apologized, said she hadn’t meant it that way, and said that she normally tries to be careful because she had a cousin with…and she stumbled over it (because I guessed she hadn’t heard it before)…intellectual disabilities.
And then the therapist got involved and made sure that she was okay with me calling her out and asked if I often did that, and I said that, yes, yes, I did. All the time. Because it was important to realize that insulting people because of their disabilities was not okay, and like none of us would like it if we were turned into negative slang, we shouldn’t do it to other people.
I hadn’t expected to have to defend myself, or my correction of someone who used a word as an insult, but there you go. You never know when – or if – you’re going to have to speak up. So don’t be shy. If someone says it, tell them.
I sit here in the cafeteria of my son’s old elementary school at 6:45 at night. There are three lunch tables set out by a very kind and helpful janitor. There are seats for 12 at each table. There is plenty of room for kids to run and play around the room – there’s even an empty stage. And there’s me.
Why am I here?
I’m in charge of the new parent-led support group. The group that’s meant for parents of children with special needs. The children don’t even need to be in the school district. They can be in any local district. Or a non-local district. Home schooled. Or even too young for school but wondering what will become of their child when that child is school age (which, in the world of disabilities is 3, the age when PPCD starts and ECI ends…and if those initials sounds wrong to you, you might live in a different area or state, but the age is probably the same: it’s when the early childhood intervention ends and the pre-school begins).
So we cast a pretty wide net.
Flyers for this meeting went home with parents about a week ago. I posted in a bunch of FB groups. I even sent a mass email to anyone who gave me that email address at the last meeting or at the school district’s “ability fair” back in October.
And yet…I’m here alone.
I guess I shouldn’t complain too much that no parents showed up.
Our speaker is also MIA. She’d contacted us a few months ago, asking to present to the group. We got her scheduled with the date. Then I gave her the time and the place. Never heard from her. I tried to reach her today for a last-minute confirmation. Nothing.
Which means that I’m sitting in the cafeteria, alone. No parents. No speaker.
If you ever wonder why districts/schools can get away with doing so many bad things, giving students sub-standard services, treating special needs kids so poorly…I can answer the question with my lonely presence here tonight.
People – parents – don’t put in (or can’t put in) the time and effort.
And on one hand, I get that. I really do. It sucks to not be able to find even a single hour to get to a meeting about your child’s future. But, on the other hand, it’s kind of like voting. How can you complain if you don’t show up?
Sadly, I’ve seen this happen before. Many, many years ago, before our school district’s special ed department was as fantastic as it is today, we had to fight with them (getting a lawyer and all) because they were trying to do something not in our son’s best interest. It really wasn’t in any child’s best interest, but it was the easiest thing for them to do. At the time, we tried to rally support in the fight, to get the other parents involved. None of them were interested.
Our effort made a different – our son got a better end result, and we got an absolutely fabulous new head of special programs.
But as I sit here tonight, I try to think good thoughts. Instead, I flash back on an accidental meeting I had with another mother about eight years ago. It still haunts my head.
We were both picking up our then four-year-olds from their afternoon pre-school. Her son seemed to be very high-functioning, so I asked what his diagnosis was – I thought maybe he was Asperger’s.
She looked at me, confused. Then said, “Oh, I dunno. ADD or something.”
Well, the class was only for kids on the autism spectrum, so while her son might have had ADD as well, I suspected that what she actually meant was PDD-NOS. Not that she knew that. I’m still face-palming over that afternoon.
Anyway, the point is: the evening was a bust. And a reminder – I hope – to parents and families to do all they can.
And now I’m at home, posting up this blog, and drowning my sorrows in hot chocolate and popcorn along with a really bad horror movie.