Sometimes it’s just a lack of information that makes us think and say dumb things. Sometimes it’s just pure meanness, or maybe fear.
For a long time I thought all autistic kids were like Joey from across the street. This was back in 1976. Joey was my age, about nine. He was blond with blue eyes, very solemn and prone to meltdowns. His mother struggled to calm him when a meltdown happened, which became more awkward as he grew taller and stronger.
Joey was a little scary to me, an unpredictable element. I didn’t know what was “wrong” with him, had never heard of autism, and felt sorry for his mother. My stepmother provided some of my information, things like, “That poor woman” and “Better her than me.”
Of course I didn’t know much detail about the family, Joey’s parents or little brother. I only saw them getting in or out of the car, the house, or the boys playing in their driveway. I never saw the intimate moments, the parents tucking the boys into bed, the boys opening Christmas presents, the hugs, giggles and homework moments. I knew nothing of the family except maybe a couple of meltdowns and my stepmother’s comments. Joey equaled negativity and chaos, and I’d been conditioned to feel pity for the family.
Maybe that’s why so many parents at my son’s Catholic school didn’t want “special” kids around when their special education program was announced three years ago. Some were very vocal about it. There was even a town meeting to discuss the matter. For a long time I feared subjecting my little boy to bullying at school, and when I use the word “bullying” I’m talking about the parents. Kids hear their parents talk. They know what’s up. It’s trickle-down bullying, bullying by proxy, generational bullying. But after three successful years I figured the parents had accepted the program. So I enrolled my autistic son in the special program this year.
Everything has gone well so far. My 1st grader seems happy. But I heard recently that some of the parents were posting negative things on Facebook about the program. I guess they object to what they perceive to be a social blemish on their College Prep-Education. I’m trying, but I just can’t wrap my brain around or clearly define these concerns.
There are 725 students at this school. Only about 6 are officially in the special program which serves disabilities like dyslexia, ADHD and high-functioning autism. So why are Christian parents posting highly visible negativity about 6 children on the worldwide web? Did they not think the parents of the 6 would find out? Well, we found out. And…ouch.
If there had been a Facebook in 1976, would other parents have ridiculed nine year old Joey? Probably.
I went inside Joey’s house once, and though the reason why escapes me, I remember how it felt: It was way more “normal” inside than I had expected. Their sofa looked like ours, Joey’s mom was baking cookies, they had a spunky Yorkie. Their carpet was actually cleaner than ours, and overall, the house was more peaceful. Joey was just a kiddo, his family a typical family.
I’d just seen a sliver of reality in Joey’s driveway, then I chose to define him by a few bad moments. Just as local parents are defining a wonderful program that’s working.
So to the moms who feel compelled to post negativity about children on Facebook:
SHAME ON YOU.
We’re all still learning about the world, about other humans and especially, ourselves. We can’t know and love everyone’s child, kiss every cheek that smells like a sugar cookie, care about every milestone ever met. But for just a minute please imagine you’re there with us, in my son’s blue room where I tuck him in each night. He’s just out of the bathtub, the scent of doughy Lush soap still on his skin. You will hear me happily answer a question he always asks before sleep, “So where are we going tomorrow?” And you may think he doesn’t know our schedule or the difference between weekdays and weekends. But that’s not it.
He knows our schedule well. He asks not because he lacks the answer, but because when someone he trusts talks about the future, it makes him feel safe. Doesn’t that describe most of us?
What are we most afraid of? Loss? That maybe one of our loved ones might not be perfect? Or that there’s no such thing as perfect and tomorrow is not a guarantee?
We’re afraid of lots of things, differences being one, but they’re all related. We’re afraid of loss, little deaths, big deaths, losing our place in the world. So let’s work harder to legitimize trust. Don’t hurt others. Play nice. Do all those good things we were taught back in Kindergarten. Remember the Golden Rule.