Tag Archives: beliefs

An Autistic Child is Murdered

Another Autistic child has been murdered by one of his parents.  This time it is a six-year old, little boy named London McCabe.  London joins a growing list of Autistic children who have been murdered in recent years.

A psychology professor who runs an “education” group for mothers of autistic children in California said, “quite frankly, I am surprised this doesn’t happen more often.”

Wow.

“I am surprised this doesn’t happen more often.”

The casual nature of this comment stunned me.

She then went on to say, “These children are really unable to be in a reciprocal relationship and the moms don’t really experience the love that comes back from a child — the bonding is mitigated.”  This horrifying statement is untrue, but beyond that, the suggestion that if our feelings are not reciprocated, it makes sense that we become murderous, is to make us so narcissistic, so incredibly monstrous as to be unbelievable.   This is Bruno Bettelheim’s famous “refrigerator mother” theory reapplied to Autistic children and it is just as awful in this new version as it was in the original.

Most Autistic children feel love for their parents, just as most non-autistic children do.  Even when their parents behave horribly toward them, even when they’ve been treated with contempt, ignored, bullied, ridiculed and publicly shamed by those who say they love them, even then, most children still love their parents.  As they grow older many may have more complicated feelings of despair, abandonment, become distrustful, anxious and terrified.  The idea that Autistic children do not feel intensely is an outrageously, misinformed idea.  Just because someone does not reciprocate in a way non-autistics understand, recognize or expect does not mean the feelings do not exist. 

It is extremely disturbing to read such a statement coming from someone who is treated with deference and as though she is an authoritative voice on the topic of autism and Autistic people.  This professor is one of a number of people who has a degree in psychology and has made inaccurate, misinformed and mistaken statements about autism and Autistic people, yet none stop to ask what the psychological damage is to the Autistic children and adults they demonize with their incorrect statements, not to mention the impact such statements have on a misinformed public.  Unfortunately, few seem to be asking any questions about any of this or even bothering to find out if such statements are true, including the newspaper that published her comments.

There is an increasing number of Autistic men, women, teens and even younger people who are writing about their experience of life, their relationships and the world.  I am surprised when I meet someone in the field of autism who does not follow at least some of the blogs so many Autistic people are writing.  The Resources page of Emma’s Hope Book has dozens of links to Autistic people’s writing.  The first 28 blogs listed are written by non-speaking Autistics.  One of those people is my daughter, Emma.  After a presentation Emma gave in New York City a few months ago, she and I had the following conversation:

Emma:  I hope people will question what they have been told.
Ariane:  I do too.
Emma:  Horrible ideas about people, cause many to do terrible things…
A little later in that same conversation, Emma typed, “Worry and fear are fueled by furious words spoken harshly.  Humor soothes, shining sunny rays spreading hope.”

As the mother of an Autistic daughter who cannot communicate fluently with spoken language, but communicates beautifully by typing, I am continuously shocked by the inaccurate information that is rampant on the topic of autism and Autistic people.  Yesterday Emma typed, “Understanding that all human beings want connection is natural and fundamentally human.”  And last week Emma wrote, “The people of this world need to be exposed to difference and then shown compassion for their ignorance and limited thinking.”

For people who do not have the ability to communicate with spoken language and/or have sensory issues that impact each individual differently, expecting them to respond the way people who do not have any problem speaking and have never been assaulted by their environment, is relying on a false idea.  It is this false idea that continues to misrepresent so many.  It is this false idea that serves to hurt Autistic people.

The psychology professor told NBC News that mothers do not have the experience of their love returned by their child.   “That is one of the most difficult things for mothers” she told the reporter.

If this were true, it would be hard.  Years ago, when I once believed a great many things about my daughter, that I now know are not true, it was an awful feeling.  But it is far worse to be that child who loves, but is believed incapable of love.  It is far worse to be so thoroughly misunderstood, to be constantly misrepresented in public, to be thought so problematic that people sympathize with the mother who murders you… that is far more horrific than anything I will ever experience in this world.

London McCabe

London McCabe

“Mistaken Beliefs People Have”

I asked Emma what she wanted to write about this afternoon during her writing session.  She typed, “Deconstructing the mistaken beliefs people have.”

I encouraged her to continue and asked what she was thinking of specifically.  She typed, “Mostly what people think they understand there cannot be, when talking about autism, creating lots of bad ideas that attract unoriginal therapies we must put up with.”

“Wow!  Keep going,” I urged.

“Actors playing roles the audience greets with enthusiasm, but an autistic person who doesn’t speak as expected, or at all, is booed off stages throughout the world.”

“Such a great point,” I said.

Emma typed, “The people of this world need to be exposed to difference and then shown compassion for their ignorance and limited thinking.”

She smiled and then typed, “Put it on the blog!”

And so I am.

Austin1

“Let’s Talk About Communication Abilities”

*As always Emma gave me permission to post this.  Emma typed her words by independently pointing to the letters on a bluetooth qwerty keyboard attached to her iPad.

This morning I asked Emma what she wanted to talk about.  She wrote, “How about we talk about communication abilities.”

A:  “Okay, that’s a great idea!”

E:  “Especially for someone like me.”

A:  “Yes, tell me more.”

E:  I am able to communicate really well with words, but people don’t expect me to, so when they see me typing, they eagerly watch, but they don’t listen to what I write as much as they listen to the words tumbling from my mouth.”

A:  “I think that’s such an amazing observation!”

E:  “Know that believing in someone’s ability will be greeted with inward smiles, so you must never give the doubts breathing space.”

We talked about “ability” and the power of believing in both oneself and another versus doubting.

E:  “Many insist on finding proof, but when sitting with someone like me they only see the things I do that confirm what they already believe and turn their backs on all that would prove them wrong.”

A:  “Is there anything or anyone specific you’re referring to?”

E: “It is what I have experienced, sadly.”

I told Emma how sorry I was.  We talked about this more and then I said, “I think your words really do affect many people who are listening and as a result are changing how they see their child.  Even if only a few people listen, it’s worth repeating, don’t you think?

E:  “Some that change their views, teach others well.”

A:  Yes, I think so too.  Many people have reached out to us on Facebook and on the blog to tell us.  It’s always so wonderful when we hear from them.

E:  “Now we must remain patient and doggedly trudge ahead.”

I told Emma, she was leading the way and I would always follow.

E:  “Together we will eagerly tether our ideas, so having happy thoughts will woo anger.”

Ariane and Em ~ May 2014

Ariane and Emma ~ May 2014

Transformations

I began this blog in April, 2010 as a document of what I thought would surely be our finding a cure for my daughter’s autistic neurology.  At the time I did not question that this was a worthy goal and one I should be pursuing.  At the time, all I could see were the things challenging her, making her life more difficult with no upside.  She was, I thought, the victim of a neurology that caused her nothing but pain and suffering.  It was not until I was confronted with the joys, things that I had witnessed right from the beginning of her life, but, after receiving her diagnosis then ignored and dismissed, that I began to appreciate the more complex truth about autism and what that might mean to her.  I could not have imagined that four years later my daughter would be posting her profound insights about life, her neurology and the impact society has on her, not because we found a cure, but because we didn’t.

For those of you who have read this blog from the beginning, or poked around and read a post or two from those early days or those who’ve looked through the archives of the pieces published on Huffington Post, you will see a transformation.  It is not a transformation of my daughter’s neurology as was once my goal, but a transformation of our thinking, and as a result the impact our thinking has had, not just on her self-esteem, but on our ideas about ourselves, individually and as a family.  We had to examine and question our own neurology and the challenges we face as a result, before we were able to fully appreciate hers.

We do not take credit for who she is becoming.  We cannot.  My daughter is strong, stronger and wiser than I have any right to claim influence on.  While it has certainly helped that we no longer fight against her neurology, but instead encourage, support and provide her with the help she needs to flourish, it would be wrong to suggest who she is and is becoming is all due to us.  Had we not found people who believed completely in her, people who saw beneath the words she spoke, the way her body moved, had they not shown us and encouraged us to question our beliefs and set them aside, to look beyond what we thought we were seeing and what that meant, we would still be lost in the horror of what we once thought and were told “autism” meant.

This concept, that of helping an Autistic child flourish to be all they autistically can be, is counter to all that we non autistics are told and urged to believe.  So much of the focus is on making our Autistic children behave and appear less autistic-like.  Appearing non autistic is the emphasis and the fact that this comes at a price, is not often spoken of or even considered among the non autistic population.  Many people see Autistic people, witness their inability to say what they feel and think, and believe there is nothing more to see.  They come to conclusions, having witnessed the person’s movement, their facial expressions or lack of, and believe what they see and what they then conclude is the “truth”.  Assumptions can create all kinds of misunderstandings that hurt a population who do not follow the unspoken rules of a majority.

(Trigger for abuse contained in links)  Misunderstandings that then lead to abuse.  Beliefs, like this and this are expressed and taken by many as fact, regardless of how misinformed, regardless of how shoddy the reporting, which further harm people and children, like my daughter.  The cure I seek now is for our society.  A cure for intolerance, sameness at any cost, and for those who seek to silence those who cannot speak with spoken language, but who have a great deal to say through the words they write, is what I dream of.

One of the many down sides of non autistic neurology is how we struggle mightily to blend in, to fit in at all and any cost.   We strive to be better than, to keep up appearances, to cover our awful feelings of insecurity and discomfort with pretense and by controlling those around us.  Some become obsessed with money and power and yet once they have both, they use it to further separate themselves.  Where and what is the cure for that?

This is the journey I now find myself on.  There are others farther ahead, I am doing my best to follow.  There are many who learned all of this sooner than I did.  There are some who will read this and because they have been on this road longer, will see how far I still have to go, but this is a trek, the best sort of trek, filled with discovery and beauty.  Emma is leading the way now.  I really am just trying my best to keep up, while remaining open to all that I still do not know, but am eager to learn.

 

Having THE Conversation & Parenting

Emma not only gave me permission to write about this, but asked that I “put it on the blog.”  I posted a small portion of this conversation on Emma’s Hope Book Facebook Page yesterday.

Trigger warning:  eugenics, abortion

Yesterday morning I saw an article in National Geographic about the Seine and Paris that I thought Emma might enjoy reading, particularly since her grandfather, my father, was born and raised in Paris.  But as with any topic I choose I asked Emma if it was something she was interested in.

Ever the diplomat, Emma wrote, “I do want to talk about the Seine, just not now.”

“Okay,” I said, “what would you like to talk about instead?”

“I want to have the conversation about eugenics,” Emma wrote.

I was astonished.  After I’d recovered from my astonishment I thought of how I continually talk about presuming competence and yet am so often surprised by my daughter’s words.  I’ve come to the conclusion that one does not preclude the other.  I can presume competence and still be surprised by the things she knows and says.  In fact, if I asked a group of twelve-year olds to talk to me about eugenics, I’m guessing there would be several who would not be familiar with the word, let alone able to spell it correctly.

“What specifically are you wanting to say or know?” I asked.

Emma wrote, “What do you believe is right?”

I said, “I don’t believe eugenics is ever a good idea, because it is a desire to extinguish those believed to be lesser beings.  I think all human beings are valuable and should be treated with respect and equally.”  As I spoke I held the keyboard for her to respond if she wanted to.

Emma wrote, “I believe human life is sacred and people treat those who they think are different far worse than people who are like them.”

“Yes, I think you’re right,” I said.  “Do you worry about eugenics?”

“Yes,” Emma wrote, “because parents seem so upset when they find out their kid is autistic.  I worry that people like me will end up being aborted.”

Eugenics and abortion…  Now two topics I was completely unprepared to talk about.  So we discussed both.  I talked to Emma about prenatal testing and how such a test has not been made yet.  I explained that autism has not been found in one particular gene, but that researchers are finding whole clusters of genes suggesting that it will be very difficult to isolate one or even a group of genes that may or may not be related to autism.  We discussed abortion and how and why it is a complicated topic.  And we talked about the difference between abortion and eugenics and how the two can overlap, but that they are also not necessarily related.

As with any complex issue, this is where parenting can get tricky.  I asked myself, how much information is too much?  I do not want to be overly protective and try to shield either of my children from difficult topics, nor do I want to “feed” my children my opinions.  Instead I want them to have enough information so they can form their own opinions, even if they develop opinions I do not agree with.  I’d rather disagree and talk about that than have them believe something without thinking about it.

I told Emma that her concerns were one of the reasons I feel so compelled to continue writing and why I hope she will also continue to write so that “more people get to know someone like me.”  We discussed how people’s perceptions about autism and how the things we see and are told, all that inaccurate information, can cause people to do things they would not do if they were given a more balanced and informed view.

Emma then wrote, “…I will write about this more so other parents open their hearts and learn…”

Now I realize I am bringing up difficult and complex topics.  Topics many people have strong opinions about.  I’m actually not interested in getting into an ideological argument about abortion and a woman’s right to choose, however I am interested in discussing the ramifications of the current and ongoing conversation regarding autism.

Eugenics was not a topic I would have ever thought to bring up with my daughter.  Not only was it not something I’d thought to discuss, it is a word I did not assume she knew.  But, just as when she wrote to Soma a few months back that she had seen the Grammy’s, unbeknownst to me, my daughter hears everything that is said around her.   Emma wrote that she saw the Grammy’s while waiting in the airport.  I hadn’t even noticed they were being shown because I don’t pay attention to the television screens when we are in an airport, so busy am I with getting through security and finding our gate.

I am so grateful Emma is able to write about these things so that we can discuss her concerns.  How many people who are Autistic worry about being harmed or even killed because of their neurology?  How many are able to voice their concerns?  How many are worrying in silence?

Emma - April 2014

Emma – April 2014

Shifting Our Beliefs

“It’s a simple program, but it’s not easy.”  These were the words I remember someone saying to me during those first few weeks so long ago when I entered a 12-step program.  As with most of the things people said during those first few years when everything was still a blur, I heard the words, but didn’t really understand or care what was meant.  Not really.  The slogans seemed trite and silly. I heard them, I read them, but I didn’t pay much attention to them other than to make fun of them.  And then as the days of not acting on my addictions piled up and my head began to clear, as life continued along and I with it, I started to make sense of this phrase and so many more that were said during those early days.

Like everything in life, things are rarely how I expect them to be.  The years since I walked into those recovery rooms have not unfolded as I thought they would.  I am not doing what I imagined I would be doing, my life does not resemble the life I once led nor does it resemble the life I imagined for myself.  All of it comes as a surprise.  Perhaps the biggest is how much I have come to love so many of these slogans that I once viewed with contempt.

The things I learned in those early days of recovery are things I continue to apply to my life now:   “Take it easy,”  “Keep it simple,”  “Practice the principles in all our affairs,”  “Circumstances do not make us who we are, they reveal to us who we are,” “Don’t curse the darkness, light a candle,”  “Compare and despair,”  “We’re responsible for the effort, not the outcome,” “Change is a process, not an event,” “resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die,” “sorrow is looking back; worry is looking around; hope is looking forward,” “serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm,”  “F.E.A.R. – False Evidence Appearing Real.”

There are too many program slogans to list here, but almost all of them can be applied to every aspect of my life today, particularly when it comes to autism.  There is so much that I feel discouraged by when it comes to autism, what is said, what we are told, what is believed to be “true”.  As I continue to learn, as my daughter continues to write, the farther away we drift from the commonly held beliefs about autism and my child and friends who are Autistic.  I read articles written about autism and Autistic people and I recognize none of my friends, daughter or anyone I know.   The articles and views seem completely disconnected from reality.  I read what so many other parents say and I have to remember to remind myself that I once believed these things too.

Recently someone sent me the link to a book review of Naoki Higashida’s book The Reason I Jump.  The review was written by someone who works in the field of autism and yet was incredulous that Naoki talks with such insight about his social interactions, speaks of feeling ashamed when his body does not cooperate with his mind.  The reviewer wonders aloud what (if any) the implications are for others who are non-speaking and Autistic.  Of everything written about Naoki’s book, this was the review that has continued to haunt me.  Here is someone who has spent his life researching and working in the field of autism and yet, Naoki’s book comes as a surprise.  How is this possible?

It’s possible because those who are in the field have been given incorrect information and then look for verification that align with what they’ve been told.  Yet this bias is not how research should be done.  Until we are willing to accept the idea that maybe, just maybe what we believe to be true is not, we will not be able to believe anything different.  And as a result all of our Autistic children, friends and people will suffer the consequences.

Emma – 2003

*Em 2003

The Snowball Effect

The snowball effect began with, what I now think of as, a leap of faith.  Richard and I leapt into that great abyss better known as the unknown.  It turns out this was actually not true, it would be more accurate to say we chose to neither believe nor disbelieve, but instead began to examine all we were being told.  Perhaps it’s better to say that instead of leaping into we jumped out of.  From there it was more of a hop to begin presuming competence.  However, as a commenter on this blog said, “presuming competence isn’t enough.” And knowing what we now know, I have to agree.  It’s the starting point.  It’s like that initial leaping off point, it’s just the beginning.

At the moment we are experiencing something akin to being in free fall.  It’s the feeling of discovery, limitlessness, surprise, and pure ecstasy that comes with being present without expectation or preconceived ideas about what should or will happen.  Our perspective continues to change as we move along.  Like any great adventure, the path is at times rocky, but the triumphs are exquisite.  As we move deeper into this process it becomes easier and more familiar to be solidly in the discomfort of the unknown.  There is bliss in that.  True bliss.

Last fall I wrote a post about how I was worried Emma was not comprehending a story that had been sent home in her back pack from school.  It was a simple story, perhaps 1st grade level reading with some questions that she seemed unable to answer.  In the post I write how I am trying to find ways to help her reading comprehension.  I talk about presuming competence.  What I am struck by now is not Emma’s level of supposed incomprehension, but by my own.  I reread all the comments just now and am amazed, amazed that though I thought I was presuming competence, I was only able to go so far with my presumptions and, as it turns out, wasn’t going far enough.  I could only presume as much as my limited thinking would allow me.  The idea that she was not only comprehending this story, but was so far beyond it, was not something I was capable of fully understanding, let alone considering.  I was much more stuck, as it turns out, than my daughter was.

Now jump forward to yesterday afternoon, almost nine months after I wrote the post I refer to in the above paragraph.  Emma chose to talk about adjectives.  We watched the BrainPop movie about adjectives and then she took the quiz.  I copied what Rosie had done, asked her to read the questions silently to herself while using a laminated card to direct her visually and then quickly guided her to read each of the four multiple choice answers.  She only hesitated once, on a question about a possessive adjective, but otherwise breezed through the quiz with 90% accuracy.  Not only was Emma reading faster than I was able to, but she was accurately answering the questions faster than I could read them, let alone answer them.

The snowball effect:  “The basic workings of a literal snowball effect can be illustrated by taking one’s average baseball-sized snowball and dropping it down the side of a snowy hill. As it descends it gathers more snow and whatever leaves, sticks, etc. are in its way. The snowball accumulates not only size, but speed.” ~ From the Urban Dictionary

Self Portrait

photo

To the Person Who Googled “I don’t know if I can handle Autism”

I have three things I need to say to you.

First.  Come.  Talk.  Find a safe place where you can talk without being judged, somewhere private, somewhere and with someone(s) who will understand and listen.

Second.  Fear.  Feel the fear.  It’s impossible for me to talk about autism without talking about the abject fear I used to feel, every single day, every moment.  They say fear can be informative.  This was not my experience of it in the beginning, I was running too fast and doing so much to avoid it.  Fear drove me to do a great many things I regret.  I wish I could tell you I have no regrets, but I do.  So, so many regrets.  Avoiding the fear is just one of them.  I wish I’d sat with it.  Leaned into it and listened to it, without believing what it whispered to me as though it were fact.  Listen to it, but don’t believe it.  Who knows what I might have learned all those years ago.  Who knows had I done that, what mistakes I might have avoided.  Who knows?

You see, fear was the driving force behind my relentless search for a “cure”.  Fear is what made me think anything I did was better than doing nothing.  Fear drove me to rationalize some dangerous and very risky “interventions” because I thought to do otherwise was wrong.  It was my fear that kept me up at night, on the computer, typing one more search word into Google’s vast engine, hoping I would find the thing, the remedy, the treatment, the pill, the tincture, the doctor, the nutritionist, the biomed doctor, the QiGong Master, the homeopath, the naturopath, the GI specialist, the thyroid specialist, the speech therapist, the occupational therapist, the cranial sacral doctor, the shaman, the Zuni chieftain, the psychic, yeah you read that right, the psychic, each and every one of these people I put my faith in.  I convinced myself that this person, finally would be the ONE.  They would reach out their hand and show me the path I needed to take.

All those words used to describe autism and Autistic people, our children or parents or siblings, all those words like, “burden”, “epidemic”, “crisis”, the war terminology evoked telling us how we must “fight” and “combat”, all those words like crumbs left in a dark forest were words I believed and used and never, never once during those early years did it occur to me to question them.  For those who did, well, they obviously didn’t have a child like mine.  You had a child who was less profoundly affected by autism than mine.  This was my thinking, this is what I believed in my heart.  (This is my story, it may not be yours, but it is the only story I can tell.)

Third.  There is a documentary I love.  I have watched it many times now.  It’s called Wretches and Jabberers.  I’m not going to tell you more, you just have to see it for yourself.  It’s available on iTunes, Netflix and Hula.   You can purchase a copy from Amazon.  Even if you ignore every other thing I’ve written here, just watch it.  It is a documentary that every human being on this planet should see, because it is about more than just autism.  It is about our beliefs and how our beliefs make us behave in ways we might not otherwise condone.  It is about prejudice and fear and ingrained thinking and the inherent limitations all of that encourages for those who are different.

And finally remember this – just because someone does not speak, does not mean they have nothing to say.  Just because someone cannot make their needs known, does not mean they have none.  Just because someone does not tell us they love us does not mean they do not.  Just because someone does not look at us, does not mean they do not see us.  Just because they do not seem to understand in a way that we recognize, does not mean they do not and cannot.  Just because we think they are ignoring or cannot hear us, does not mean they are or do not.  Just because we think someone cannot write or read does not mean they can’t or never will.

Just because we feel, in this moment, we cannot handle something does not mean we can’t.  With support, we can and we will.  And so will our children.  They can, they do, and with help, they will.  Believe this and you will not only help your child and yourself, you will help the world and all human beings who inhabit it.

Choose to believe.

Emma on her 4th Birthday – 2006

Em - 2006