On Being Fallible

At the conference Em and I just returned from I was confronted by someone who told me I was being disrespectful of my daughter.  She actually went further and said I had spoken “inappropriately” to her.  Furthermore she said these things to me in front of a room filled with people, all of whom could hear her, because she was leading the presentation.  Yup.  It was one of those moments when you really wish the floor would arbitrarily open up and allow you to slide into its blissful dark, abyss.  It was also the final day of the conference and I was feeling pretty fragile and emotional.  My ability to filter was at an all time low, my ability to think logically was pretty much non-existent, and finally, my ability to hear her and reflect on her words without defensiveness was hovering in the red-high-alert-grab-your-oxygen-mask-we’re-going-down-save-yourself range.  It was one of those moments you wish had never happened, but more to the point you wish you’d never said the thing that was being criticized so publicly.  It was a moment of intense shame.  And my first thought was – defend, defend, defend!

But remember, I was in overwhelm before her words had found their target and I didn’t feel strong or able to fight back, nor did I feel I was in a position to fight back, after all not only was she leading the workshop, she was someone I have a massive amount of respect and admiration for.  This is someone I had looked forward to seeing ever since I was told we would be in her workshop.  This was the person I’d read about and anticipated meeting with eager excitement.  Meanwhile there my daughter was, typing out “I’m happy.”  To which she said, “I’m guessing you’re happy when your mom gets called out on her behavior.” Ouch. Ouch.  Ouch.  Let’s just get a knife while we’re at it and see some real blood.

But here’s the thing…  she had a point.  The details aren’t relevant, what is, though, is that if I am speaking to my Autistic child in a way that I wouldn’t speak to my non autistic child, then that’s clearly a problem.  If I am speaking to my Autistic child in a way that I would speak to my non autistic child, (as was the case in this instance) and someone who has spent their life working with children and advocating for them calls me out on what I’ve just said, I need to, at the very least, consider their words and reflect on my own.  I have never claimed to be an ideal parent.  Years of parenting has taught me that sometimes I get it right, often I get it wrong, but hopefully I will always be willing to look honestly at my actions and behavior without defensiveness, but with a desire to learn and be the best parent I can be one day at a time.

So if someone says something that really hurts, when their words pierce, I’m old enough and smart enough to spend some time thinking about my reaction and at least try to see where the other person is coming from.  Sometimes people say things without the necessary information, sometimes people say things that hurt because they are operating from a set of false assumptions, and sometimes hurtful things are hurtful because there is truth to their words.  I’ve spent the last 36 hours trying to figure out which of these was true or if it was a combination of things, but more importantly, I have reflected on whether the sentence I said to my child was the best way I could have spoken to her and if it wasn’t, what would have been.

Even in my state of overwhelm, I was able to whisper to Em right away, “I’m so sorry, Emmy.”  And I was.  But I was also angry with this other person.  I still felt the need to defend.  I still wanted to “save face” in front of this room filled with people.  But instead I went silent and tried not to cry.  Shame.  Shame is brutal and though all of us have probably felt first hand what it feels like, we also probably, inadvertently have shamed others without realizing it or even meaning to.  I know I have.  The above example is a case in point.  Without meaning to – I had shamed my daughter by questioning out loud what she’d just typed.  I get that.  I have enough humility to know that I make tons of mistakes… every day…  but I also know the beat up job that is my default reaction to making a mistake is not a healthy one.  I’m working toward more measured and thoughtful responses.

One of the things I love about Pascal Cheng, the first person to help me begin supporting Emma with her typing was that when I did something that he saw was unhelpful, he would/will say, “May I give you some feedback?”  He then says things like, “Instead of saying, ‘No!’ ask her if that’s the word she meant to type.”  He has taught me to try and give her just the right amount of resistance (to make sure that she doesn’t go to favorite scripts) combined with the emotional support and encouragement she needs to continue typing with me. Pascal models the same respectful interaction with everyone he comes into contact with.  When I grow up I want to be like Pascal.

But in the meantime, I am looking at my words and seeing how important it is for me to be aware and conscious and respectful of my daughter.  Perhaps the better question I must remember to ask myself is not – would I speak to my son this way, but, would I want someone else to speak to me this way?  The beauty of life is that  we can always improve if we want to.  And I desperately want to.  My goal isn’t to be “right” or never to do anything “wrong” or to make someone else “wrong” when they confront me, my goal is to have the willingness to look honestly at my behavior and the things I say and do, face my mistakes and learn from them.  That’s my goal for this short life I have been given.

Me and Em at the ICI Conference
Me & Em

45 responses to “On Being Fallible

  1. I’m so glad that you included Pascal’s words in this post. Because it isn’t always about being right. How you tell someone they are wrong can make all the difference in the world. Pascal didn’t shame you or put you on the defensive. His approach is more likely to help you learn and do better in the future.
    It sounds like you admit you were being disrespectful of Em. Why didn’t the person model a better way when she pointed it out?

    • I think, given the way the workshop was designed, it made it difficult to speak one on one to anyone. Anything said could and would be heard by everyone else. So in this situation, while my ego might not have been so badly bruised had the wording been different, this was actually an amazing example of what my daughter must deal with on a regular basis. I don’t know that had it been less harsh I would have taken away the same profound message. I’m not advocating that people go around and speak harshly to one another, but given that this happened as it did, I see it as a beneficial and really important learning experience, one I am unlikely to forget and for that I’m actually really grateful.
      PS This did not dampen my admiration and respect for her.

  2. Gosh, I feel for you. What a terrible thing to happen. I know it hurts so bad to look forward to seeing some expert or admired person, then to be let down by their treatment of you. Justified or not, it hurts. Then again, maybe it wasn’t justified.

    I wish people would cut parents a little slack. She was chiding you for speaking inappropriately to your daughter, yet she was doing the same thing to you.

    Please don’t be hard on yourself. Hugs. We are only human. And even parents of autistic children are not super parents. However, you’re doing an excellent job. Cheer up.

    • The irony of the situation was definitely not lost on me! Thank you for such lovely kind and supportive words, but this was one of those situations where I learned a very, very important lesson, not least of which was how it feels to be treated in a way that my daughter is treated often by random strangers. So yes, it isn’t pleasant, but boy am I determined to be more aware!

  3. Linnea Rademaker

    I agree with marilyna. We all need to cut each other some slack. And, quite frankly, it was disrespectful towards you for that person to call you out in a room full of people. Speaking to you one on one would have modeled the respectful behavior she was trying to encourage in you towards your daughter. Be that as it may, you are a very gracious and humble person to write about it so publicly!

    • Linnea – Thanks so much!
      The main take away for me was that my ego is not the most important thing, my child is far more important and as long as I remember that, she and I will be okay.

  4. dont be hard on yourself were human .just remerber when she needs you you are always there for her

  5. You are so beautiful, inside and out! We could all use a dose of your profound openness and honesty! I am much older and gotten snarky…nothing to be proud of…I truly have to reign myself in at times, and so grateful you are here to reign me in! Love you!

  6. amyschmierbach

    I have been reading your blog for a couple of months and have found them to be personal and reflective. I have appreciated your honesty and acceptance of your beautiful daughter. It has helped me on my own journey to accept my son and see the beauty, love and intelligence that lies within him. With this acceptance of my special son I have learned to accept myself. I am not perfect, I mean well in my own actions and I do and try the best I can in all of my endeavors. I like to think everyone thinks this way. Thanks for helping others find love and acceptance.

  7. An important post. Love your writing and your commitment.

  8. Love you Ariane!! Your transparency is a virtue.

  9. I’m reading this and the first instinct I have is wanting to go kick whomever’s ass talked to you this way. You, Ariane, the person who changed the entire way I think of my daughter. You, whom I have on an Autism Parenting Pedestal (don’t say you don’t belong there, you absolutely do.) You, who does more for your child and autism equality than anyone I’ve ever met. How dare this person speak to you this way? I want to find whoever said this and give them a good old Midwestern foot up the ass. But, I won’t. 😉

    My second thoughts were this. What did she hope to accomplish by calling you out in front of so many people? Why did she approach it that way? Would it not be more effective to take you aside, to discuss it privately? I don’t care if she had a point or not. She’s taking you to task for something you said to your child, by *shaming* you in a roomful of people? Shame on HER. She doesn’t deserve the pedestal you put her on.

    I know you well, Ariane, and I know that you are the first person to admit when you make a mistake. You then try to make amends. You don’t blame others, you don’t shirk responsibility, and you give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I think her words would have been much more effective had they been delivered in a Pascal type of way.

    Anyway – never mind that she’s an “expert”. There’s a thing called decency and common courtesy that she obviously lacks.


  10. You need more hugs today:) (((❤))) Sigh. All of us know that feeling. Was it Socrates who said that in the entire history of the world, not one child has been raised correctly?
    When Doc conducts rehearsals, it is his job to have the musicians play according to his idea of how a song should be played. In the interest of best using valuable rehearsal time, Doc must stop a song and correct musicians, in front of the whole group, and is not always concerned about how they take it. Our musicians are accomplished pros. Many are also top players in the most elite of the military bands, who are considered the best in the world. Sometimes they do not agree with Doc’s vision, or sometimes they just plain make mistakes. They also know they are more accomplished musicians than Doc. I am sure the military is much harder on them than Doc is. They respect Doc, and even love him, and know he is doing his job. They know they are fallible, and so is Doc. A quick correction is made, and the rehearsal moves on. Feelings may be hurt, anger may fester, but the bottom line is the vision, and making that vision a reality.
    So it is with you, and all of the people with a vision. Sometimes mistakes are made, and sometimes called out. Bottom line is it doesn’t matter, for everyone is working for the same vision. There is nothing that should hurt for too long, for all agree with the vision. Be very proud of yourself, Ariane. You have the vison ❤

    • Chou Chou – This comment is exactly it. You’ve summed up everything I was hoping and trying to say.
      “Bottom line is it doesn’t matter, for everyone is working for the same vision. There is nothing that should hurt for too long, for all agree with the vision.”
      That is exactly it. You are love in human form. I am so grateful to know you, oh-so-wise-Chou-Chou

  11. Ariane ,

    I’m sorry this happened ! Sounds as if you have learned from this . I’ve know you most of you life . Your beautiful Sensitive and you love hard ! Don’t worry about this anymore Emma knows You adore her ! Love your family enjoy Your day . Love , Bronwyn

  12. I know there have been many times I have said things to my children I wish I could take back and ‘re-word.’ I think most parents have at some point. We make amenda by acknowledging we didn’t act appropriately and try to do better the next time. However, I do not think this person was correct to call you out in front of people. If she thought you weren’t treating someone right, did she do right by embarrassing you in front of others? She was supposed to be the professional and yet she did the very thing she was telling you not to do. You were there to learn from her, not be humiliated. I think you handled this much better than I would have done. I have very low self esteem and when I am humiliated and embarrassed I tend to lash out. I know it’s not how I should react and I have controlled it better as I have gotten older, one of the good things about aging I guess. The comment from Angie T said it much better than I did!!

  13. You handled it with grace and reflection, Ariane. And that is something to be proud of.

  14. Emma has a cold, otherwise she and I would be commenting. I no longer speak for Emma,!, so if I might suggest read her blog again about how she feels about experts and language.
    Now, from my experience….you and your daughter now have a full enough relationship that includes many forms of communication, that your intentions of love and acceptance are intact. Mistakes happen.
    I humbly suggest you email directly this expert. As Emma, my daughter, is teaching me, and ps doing with the #%^#%*expert she blogged about, everyone can learn, can’t they?

    • Not sure everyone wants to learn! But I do and will cheerfully continue to every chance I get! Sending you and Emma hugs. I do hope she feels better. Nothing worse than having a cold when it’s hot out. 😦

  15. The world would be a better place if we could all have this perspective. Making mistakes, learning from them, and committing to becoming better is the essence of life. So while our shortcomings are hard to face, it is only through our awareness of shortcomings that our greatness is born.

  16. This is a moment of grace. Not just for parents of autistic children, but for all of us. To hear the message even through the delivery. To find the truth in the hurt. Wisdom. That’s why I come here. You are one wise woman.

  17. I have had this type of experience before in other settings and the growth has been tremendous. We need to clone Pascal! He is always so respectful in modeling behavior, using the right words and shaping the situation for the growth to happen. We are all on the journey. It is valuable to see everyone’s perspective, to move forward in leaving the things that don’t matter behind, to rise to that higher place. I so wish I could have talked to you during our time in Syracuse. Let’s try to connect soon.
    -Jacob’s mom, 12, ICI 2013 attendee and supported typer since 2009 in our home, community and school (Pascal fortunately is on our school team!), mom to Hope-14 and mom to Jillian -9, wife to Jeffrey (Mendon, VT). ❤

  18. I don’t know much the actual topic, but I do lead workshops with parents and other adults on other topics. I may not be the world’s best adult educator, but the last thing I would ever want to do is publicly call anyone out or say anything to embarrass or shame them, as this workshop facilitator did to you. That is appallingly ineffective teaching, period. It is very difficult if not impossible to learn when you feel defensive. So kudos to you for finding something meaningful in this experience, having the guts to write about here, and actually learning from this experience, despite the completely unnecessary pain and shame you felt. I think the workshop facilitator, no matter how expert this person is on the topic, could use some constructive, critical feedback about this ineffective, and to my mind, highly inappropriate tactic within the workshop environment.

    • Tess, really appreciate your comment. I am not an educator, but I imagine it must get pretty frustrating at times. But more importantly, I learned a very important lesson and one I am unlikely to forget any time soon!

  19. Ariane the fact that you are willing to look at it again from a different perspective and own it tells what a wonderful person you are. You are a parent who as Chou Chou says with a vision and you are trying very hard on that path. Please don’t be so hard on yourself, I wish more parents tried as hard.

  20. “I’m guessing you’re happy when your mom gets called out on her behavior.” Even if the woman was right in calling you out, that comment above really is quite stupid (and self evidently not true)!
    In any case not crying and keeping silent really was probably the right thing to do, I think you made the best of a bad situation there Ariane all things considered, even if it might not have felt like it at the time.

  21. i absolutely LOVE THIS!!! your honesty and humility (along with your other feelings and emotions) are what i love about this! i am hardly ever on wordpress anymore, but could you tell me more about your daughter “typing” “I’M HAPPY” please, as i don’t know, nor have read much about her. hope to hear from you soon. thanks much,……..

  22. The workshop leader’s disrespect for you aside I am concerned she may have been critical of you for “speaking to my Autistic child in a way that I wouldn’t speak to my non autistic child”, because they would be “clearly a problem”. If that is in fact what she said, then as Pascal would say,”she needs change what she is saying”. (Actually Pascal, as you noted would be more supportive in pointing out the error of her ways but then as much as I would like to, being more Pascal-Like remains a distant goal for me.)The way we communicate with others should meet their needs whether they are autistic, typical or are simply from France where as Steve Martin has pointed out, “they have a different word for everything!”. As my friends know I tend to try to be too humorus in many of my conversations. Many of my friends don’t get my “jokes” and simply ignore the attempts at humor but at least some of the folks with autism I have talked with are not simply bored – they become confused by the “humorous” tangents and even if they do get the joke the emotion that follows can seriously interrupt the conversation. Knowing this, it would be disrespectful for me to continue with the jokes, simply because that’s how I talk to everyone. As Anne Donnellan has pointed out slowing down the conversation and allowing the person at least 10 or 15 seconds to reply can facilitate a much more competent conversation. It may look odd to others but it can be worth it – it all depends on the conversation needs of the person you are talking with not the diagnostic labels attached to them. I feel strongly about this because a major barrier to the inclusion of students with autism can be the school’s misguided (or in some cases devious) position that inclusion requires that student’s with autism must be treated like a “typical” student” – no “special” considerations. They don’t agree with allowing the students to delay movement between classes so they can avoid the typical crowds and unpredictable noises, no cutting the students some slack in allowing them more out of desk time – because this would be treating the students differently. Treating a person differently simply because they have been labeled as having autism makes no sense but ignoring the person’s need for difference is equally misguided.I know you understand, I just needed to say it. Keep up the good work and take care.

  23. Thank you so much for sharing this, and for your whole blog. I am a speech pathology student who has worked as an ABA therapist in Australia with 2 lovely boys, and while my experience has been nothing like the horror stories I’ve read about online I still wonder if I have always given my best and always respected the boys and all their needs and wants. I am sometimes scared to even bring up this job as I don’t want to be judged and don’t want anyone to think I could do something cruel. I also worry that I might have unknowingly done something in the past! I’m know I’m not perfect and have messed things up in the past, and I’m sure I couldn’t deal with it so gracefully if it was pointed out to me, not because I wouldn’t appreciate knowing and growing from it, but because I would be horrified and full of regret for ever have done something that might hurt or be disrespectful to people I truly deeply care about. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts.

  24. Ariane,
    Thank you for sharing this. Look how many lives you have impacted already!

    For my “taste” of the suffering of those who cannot communicate I was blessed with no voice for the past three days. Heads turned away, (I’ll pretend I didn’t notice her”), looks of disdain, blank smiles, empty nods with no intent to seek the information I was desperately trying to offer, and the “cold fish” of a distant “yeah” (as in already-left-the-building-but-forgot-to-say) were but a few of my eye-opening experiences. Our understanding and our capacity for teaching has reached new depths, my friend. It’s all good. 😉

  25. I admire you so much for admitting that this person may have had a point despite the fact that his/her words hurt you.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s