My fabulous husband, Richard Long, has edited the videos of Ari’ Ne’eman’s and Emma Zurcher-Long’s presentation April 2nd at CoNGO (The Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations).
As Richard edited Ari’s terrific speech, Emma was in the room looking at the iPhoto library I keep on my computer, which is near the computer Richard was editing on. At one point Ari describes the Autism Speaks video when a mother describes (in front of her non-speaking autistic daughter, who attempts to hug her mother several times as she talks) how she thought about driving off the George Washington Bridge with her autistic daughter strapped into the back seat, but doesn’t, for the sake of her other child who is not autistic. As Richard had taken a still shot of Ari just at that moment, he needed to edit out the pause that was caused by the still shot and so had to repeat this portion of the video over and over and over.
Emma and I have discussed this video before and though I’ve not shown it to her I wondered whether she was ever in the room when either Richard or I watched it. By the fourth edit of that particular section, I looked over at my daughter who showed no outward sign of upset and whispered, “Emmy, is this upsetting you?” (I know, talk about asking the obvious…)
I am painfully aware that by writing about this I open myself up to all kinds of judgement and criticism, but I believe my insensitivity and slow response is an excellent example of the general malaise society has regarding messages like this one that Ari discusses and that are so cavalierly displayed with regularity not only by Autism Speaks, but a great many organizations and autism experts, which are then repeated in the media. If none of us are able to admit ignorance and our less than ideal reactions, but only point fingers at others, there will be no conversation and little will change. So I’m willing to reluctantly admit that it took having that section on repeat before it occurred to me to get my intensely sensitive daughter out of the room to discuss the Autism Speaks video in more detail.
This idea that our children and people (of all neurologies) hear these things, but because those who cannot communicate through spoken language are therefore thought to not be able to understand what is being said, is one of the more destructive assumptions made. And what about those who do speak, are their feelings not important? These kinds of messages, stated both publicly and privately without thought of the impact this has, encourages prejudice and intolerance, focuses on the suffering, not of the child, but of the parent because of the child, only fuels anger and fear. Meanwhile Autistic people’s feelings are ignored, their response and reactions to such messages are considered, if at all, of little importance.
“Come Emma, let’s go in the other room.” I suggested. Once outside I asked Emma if she wanted to discuss the video Ari was referring to. Emma wrote, “The video has a mom who is lost and cannot rationalize hope.” Then a little later Emma wrote, “Autistic people are not viewed as able beings, this view makes us suffer.” Read that again -
“Autistic people are not viewed as able beings, this view makes us suffer.”
After Ari’s terrific talk, Emma and I were introduced. Watch Emma writing her final sentence regarding autism and acceptance, which says it all…