"High functioning." "Low functioning." Labels that help us understand and compartmentalize people and behaviour are often misleading when it comes to actual ability to function. Norms and societal expectations (aka, stereotypes) have a funny way of doing that.Read More
Monday morning, I saw a post on Facebook that was shared by a friend. It was a picture of a letter written to the grandmother of a 13-year-old boy who has autism. Throughout the day, I saw the letter or the news story shared by at least a dozen different people. As the day went on, I think people grew weary of seeing the hateful words in their feed. Or decided that the world was spending too much time talking about this person (because, really, we have no proof that it was actually a woman) who could write such a letter.
The truth is, I doubt we'll ever know who wrote the letter. As horrifying and unkind as the words were to read, the letter doesn't appear to be a crime. Besides, jail time or fines or even a civil suit won't change the views of the writer. It likely won't even change the views of other people who feel the same way that aren't as vocal about it. You can't force people to change if they don't want to.
So, why share such a hateful example of humanity?
Because the world needs to know that this attitude exists.
Do you know what my biggest fear is when it comes to Brandon? It's that he will be bullied or made to feel like less of a person because he does things and thinks differently than other children. I've already seen it happen, though Brandon is blissfully oblivious and I sincerely hope he stays that way for as long as possible. It isn't even that children dislike him - he's well -liked. He's just not well-understood. That lack of understanding can lead to insensitive remarks and behaviour that are perfectly normal for many of the children he's around. As they get older, it's our job to teach them to be more accepting and sensitive. It's a tricky balancing act. Brutal honesty or exploring new words and ideas can often come across as mean, even if the intent is not there.
Last weekend, I was at a friend's house with Brandon. Her daughter is in the process of trying out a new word she's picked up somewhere. When Brandon was about her age, he tried out this word too.
Brandon's first four-letter word. (Well, maybe not...it's just the first that we admit to.) What a doozy, though. And yet, kids need to learn that word and understand its meaning and know how to recognize hate. We can't shield them from it or deny that hate exists. We've been working on helping Brandon understand that it's unkind to say he hates another person. He has learned it's unkind to say those words, but it's going to take a while for him to fully comprehend the concept of hate.
My friend's daughter told Brandon in some form or another that she hated him. She doesn't hate Brandon; like him, she doesn't even fully understand what hate is. She's doing the same thing Brandon did at her age. The difference is that Brandon now has some awareness that the word is unkind and she's just starting that learning process.
My point in sharing this story is that children are often labeled as mean or brats or terrors. I have no doubt that some knowingly push people's/parents'/kids' buttons. They can be smart little buggers. But they take their cues from the adults in their lives. Generally speaking, kids who hear hate will hate. Kids who are taught kindness and sensitivity will be kind and sensitive to others.
I truly feel sorry for "one pissed off mom". I sincerely hope that her children haven't picked up on her hate and fear, but they probably have if here is any truth at all to the letter. That is the saddest part: she's raising a new generation to lack sensitivity and awareness of autism. She's discounting the value children with autism bring to the world simply because she sees them as less than human.
This is exactly the sort of attitude that perpetuates the idea that anyone with special needs, regardless of the label, is not normal and therefore not as important. But here's the thing: every child is different, whether they have a "special needs" label or not. Every parent makes adjustments to meet the unique needs of each child. We had three kids in my family growing up and my older brother, me, and my younger brother each had very different upbringings.
Every person is unique, which is something that "one pissed off mom" and others with similar views fail to see.
And that's one of the reasons I think there's value in sharing this letter. Many people who aren't close to someone with autism would never know that such hate for an innocent child even exists. What I witnessed Monday with so many people sharing the letter wasn't attention to "one pissed off mom", it was outrage and compassion for any human being that has been bullied and made to feel unworthy of living. It was greater awareness of how autism impacts family's lives. Greater awareness of how special it is to be blessed with a child like Max. Or Brandon. Or any other child who has special needs.
If that helps people to stop being afraid of what they don't understand or know and try to get to know Max or someone else in their community, then maybe the letter from "one pissed off mom" has a silver lining.