The New York Times published an OpEd piece yesterday by Bill Lichtenstein about the use of restraints and seclusion rooms for children with special needs in schools. Please read by clicking ‘here‘. Bill Lichtenstein writes, “According to national Department of Education data, most of the nearly 40,000 students who were restrained or isolated in seclusion rooms during the 2009-10 school year had learning, behavioral, physical or developmental needs, even though students with those issues represented just 12 percent of the student population.”
When we speak of a group of people as less than, when we view them through the lens of deficiency, we begin paving the way for the kind of abuse shown in this footage at the Judge Rotenberg Center.
The Judge Rotenberg Center is still operating despite lawsuits, protests and outrage. The Judge Rotenberg Center, the systematic use of restraints and seclusion rooms in our schools as described in the NYTimes OpEd piece are but a few examples of what happens when we allow ourselves to think of people as “low functioning,” “severely Autistic” or any of the other words so readily used when speaking of Autism . Those words make incorrect assumptions about a person’s intellect, capabilities and cognition.
When organizations like Autism Speaks and others like them fan the flames of fear by using words like epidemic, devastating, and use war terminology regarding Autism and Autistic people we are creating a toxic environment for those who are Autistic, an environment our children, who will one day grow up to become adults, will inherit. There is a connection to the current words being used when talking about Autism and the abuse of Autistics.
All of us, each one of us must ask ourselves – if you were unable to speak in a language that those who had power over you understood, if you were spoken of as “broken,” “deficient,” “low functioning” and people treated you as though you were incapable of understanding because you could not make yourself understood, even though you continuously tried, if you were then punished, scolded, yelled at, drugged, restrained, shocked, put into a dark room because you expressed your frustration in the only way you knew how – by acting out, by becoming violent, by self harming – what would you do? How would YOU feel? At what point do our actions constitute torture?
Countless articles have been written about the abuse of disabled children and yet the abuse continues. Mother Jones published an article about the Judge Rotenberg Center in 2007, recently updated entitled School of Shock.
“The Rotenberg Center is the only facility in the country that disciplines students by shocking them, a form of punishment not inflicted on serial killers or child molesters or any of the 2.2 million inmates now incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons.”
The words we use, the organizations we support, the way we speak to and about our Autistic children, as well as Autistic people, matters. I have done so many things wrong in raising my daughter, I cannot fit it all into a single post. I have so many regrets, I could fill several pages with the things I tried all in the name of “helping her.” Emma could not tell me how she felt about the various treatments and remedies I tried and I never thought to ask. I’ve written about all of this before, the DAN doctors, the specialists, the pediatricians, the stem cell treatments. If I sit and contemplate what I’ve done to my daughter with the best of intentions, I can barely move. I feel devastated. I know I didn’t mean to hurt her. I know I didn’t mean to harm her. I know. I did it because I thought that as her mother it was the right thing to do. Now I know differently. Now I know what I did was wrong. And the only thing I can do moving forward is write about it honestly. Talk about it. I can make sure I do things differently now. I can make sure I talk about these things openly, honestly, not because I am intent on beating myself up, nothing good comes of that, but because maybe, just maybe others may learn from my mistakes.
What we do, how we behave, what we say and how we say it matters. This is the ripple effect.