Tag Archives: society

An Ode To My Daughter

Dearest One,

When you were first born I had an idea about you, it was an idea I have come back to, all these years later, it was an idea that was more right than wrong.  You were very much your own person right from that first moment you drew breath.  I remember marveling at your strength and independence.  I knew almost nothing about autism.  I hadn’t taken the idea of independence and remolded it as “autism” yet, only to rework that idea back to its original concept later.  I saw you and appreciated you for who I saw you to be.  Defiant, independent, strong, determined and silly.  Even as a baby you loved to laugh and appreciated silliness in all its various forms.  You loved playing peek-a-boo and being thrown in the air.  Those first eighteen months, before I knew words like “vestibular”, “proprioceptive”, “stimming”, “perseverative”, “echolalia” and all the other words that threatened to push you from center stage, making you less you and more an example of a diagnosis weighted with other’s learned opinions, I was in awe of you.

Words have power, but words can confuse, they blinded me for many years, I became caught up in what they meant or what others thought they meant and as a result was less able to appreciate you.  I used to wield those words as though they were weapons banishing what was, into something else, something undefinable, something “other”, something I wanted to find a way to control or remove.

As a baby before I knew those other words, you were in a state of either bliss or agitation.  I use to watch you with wonder and admiration.  You were distressed by the lights and the air seemed to hurt you, as though it scraped against your skin.  You liked being swaddled tightly in one of the soft baby blankets I had bought for your arrival.  You slept almost constantly those first two weeks.  Then your deep slumber was interrupted by internal discomforts I could not guess or see.  You greeted these intrusions with indignation, howls of distress and I felt a helplessness I had not known could exist.  A helplessness borne from not knowing; watching, but not able to intervene, hearing, but unable to understand.  I tried to comfort you, but my understanding of what comfort meant was not the same as yours and so your teaching began.  You have been so very patient with me, dearest one.  You have never given up on me.

You have painstakingly tried to communicate in a language that does not come naturally to you.  You have met me more than half way.  You have tried over and over to help me understand and you’ve never stopped.  It has taken me a long time to learn some very basic things about you, things you’ve been telling me ever since you were born, but that I couldn’t understand.  Things I still forget, but  I’m getting better at listening to you and understanding that words are not the only way a human being communicates.  I am getting better at hearing you.  I have learned to listen to your behavior as though it were a conversation, because it is how you reach out, it is the way you connect.  I am learning to lean into you, to not try to do a word-for-word interpretation of your verbal utterances, but to try to feel the meaning of what you are doing or saying.

You are Autistic.  Do not let other’s interpretation of that word define you, rather help others understand that you define it.  Make your mark in this world by continuing to believe in yourself.  Continue to stand up for yourself.  Advocate. Let your voice be heard.  “Actions speak louder than words,” people say, but they don’t seem to apply that to you and others who cannot and do not rely solely on language.  Those people need to be taught, because actions DO speak louder than words if we can learn to listen to them.

You, my beautiful daughter, are kind and good and honest and talented and funny and caring and sensitive and yes, Autistic.  Be proud of your neurology, but do not allow others to limit you because of it.  Do not allow someone’s idea of what that means to encroach on who you are or how you perceive yourself.  You are Autistic and you are my daughter.  It could be argued that both come with a great deal of baggage, but both also come with many wonders and advantages.  Concentrate on the positives, lean into them, and make your way.  Reach out to me, grab my hand, together we are stronger than we are alone.

I am so proud of you.

Richard, Em & Me – 2010


At What Point Do Our Actions Constitute Torture?

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.

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