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Archive for the ‘institutions’ Category

“Congratulations on your human decency”

with 6 comments

The correct reaction to hearing about systematic injustices or oppression experienced by an autistic person is not to turn to the autistic person explaining this and exclaim: “but I would never!”

That this response is in any way considered a legitimate one will never cease to baffle me.

I’m thrilled that you aren’t revolted by the idea of an autistic person having sex. I am really, genuinely, honestly excited. You know why?

Because you are rare. You’re like a unicorn. If everyone felt like you, my friend would be permitted to be alone in another room with her boyfriend of seven years.

But…oh. She’s not.

She’s turning twenty one, and she’s never been told what “sex” is.

She’s also not an isolated example. She belongs to a specific group of people–autistic, intellectually disabled, in a supervised living situation–who are routinely and almost by default denied agency over her sexuality. Other groups experience the same abuse in different ways.

You think that’s wrong? Congratulations. Then I’m probably not writing about you.

I am honestly overjoyed when a parent or an educator tells me that they don’t practice quiet hands. I am also frustrated past the point of tears, because you are not enough. You are one person refraining from abuse in a culture where these practices are expected. Your actions have an impact, yes–they also do not negate the reality I and the autistic community have grown up in. A spot of light in the darkness is invaluable, but it’s just that–a small spot of light. I’m not writing about the spots–I am writing about the overwhelming, consuming darkness.

I really don’t understand how we’ve gotten to a point where some sort of acknowledgement is expected for the teachers, professionals, and parents, the service providers and the allies, who manage to show some basic human decency. Such a state of affairs is an insult to everyone involved.

If I describe a broader, troubling trend in society that has a profoundly negative impact on me and my community, a reply of “but surely I am not a part of this trend!” is nonsensical. It says absolutely nothing about anything I described. You aren’t a part of the problem? Then what I’ve said doesn’t apply to you. Why are you bringing yourself up? It’s as if you commented that the sky is particularly blue today, and I mentioned that in Australia it’s midnight. They’re both technically true statements, but mine really isn’t conducive to a discussion of the weather here and now.

In fact, if I make a habit of such statements, I’ll probably be seen as needing some speech therapy or behavioral intervention.

You will probably be seen as a very, very patient ally.

It’s an absurd situation. It’s like a straight parent wanting praise for not kicking out their LGBT+ child, a man expecting me to finish an essay about rape with a p.s. most men aren’t rapists, it’s like me as a white person expecting a Japanese friend to finish a recounting of racial violence with a quick oh but I know you’re not like that, Julia.

Guess what! I don’t get points for meeting the bare minimum requirement of ethical human behavior! No one does! It’s the minimum. It’s what the default is supposed to be. We should be able to take it for granted.

Yet in discussions about ableism and autism, I am repeatedly confronted by this problem. When I refuse to qualify my statements with but of course some parents would never kill their child, or not that life is always perfectly easy for neurotypicals either, I am told I am being too blunt, angry, or antagonistic. Probably, it is theorized, this is because I am autistic. I must have difficulty understanding that my experiences aren’t universal, or that other people have feelings and a right to different opinions.

No, actually. Speaking–well, typing–truth plainly and as concisely and directly as I can is not the same as harshness. It probably feels unpleasant when read by a person in a position of immense privilege. I am frankly more concerned with the systematic injustices I see all around me.

I mention privilege. Privilege is a word that has a lot of meaning. I’ve been told I’m privileged for being able to articulate what has been done to me.

I really cannot think of anyone luckier.

Privilege is actually very different from luck. Privilege is a lot like water, to paraphrase Amanda Baggs. It’s been described as “not having to know” or “being able to forget”–not having to know that nothing will change for you unless they leave a bruise where someone can see, being able to forget that someone was institutionalized. A useful description here, however, is simply “used to taking up space.” People in positions of privilege–and enabled people are by definition in a place of immense privilege over disabled people–are used to taking up a lot of space. This does not mean that they are bad. It does mean, though, that when a minority attempts to claim a little bit of space for themselves, the privileged people will feel attacked. They might feel that the minority is, by trying to exercise their own voices and claim their own space, calling the privileged group intrinsically bad.

But here’s the catch–if the minority group devotes their limited attention and energy on reassuring the privileged group and helping them manage and process the transition…then the privileged group is still taking up all of the space!

There is not actually a way for the minority group–and to be specific again, I am talking about disabled people, about autistic adults–to win here. Either we let ourselves be co-opted into soothing decent people that they are in fact decent people, or we are a hostile force to be at best ignored and at worst fought. Either way, the privileged group–non-autistic people–is still the center of the conversation and still makes the rules.

It is completely unacceptable.

So, for future reference? If someone positions themselves as an “ally” and expects some sort of acknowledgement or praise or thanks for it: I disengage. I could not be less interested in having conversations which adhere to this power dynamic. I’m busy: I have a liberation to craft.

I would love it if you could join me.

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Written by Julia

October 7, 2011 at 3:31 am

This Is Why

with 7 comments

So you need to know about Kimba.

I met Kimba three years ago. I walked into the lifeskills classroom at the middle school, and he was moaning and flapping in the corner. I kind of wanted to do the same thing but I didn’t, which meant that the teachers mistook me for a neurotypical like them, which meant that the first thing I got to learn about Kimba was that “he just tried to throw a chair at me.”

I learned a lot of other things about Kimba in the next few days. I couldn’t sit within four feet of him, because he would attack me—he didn’t like anyone except his aide, and he went after her pretty regularly too. He had successfully convinced the teachers for an entire semester that he couldn’t read at all, only to be foiled when they gave him a puzzle of animal names and he completed it perfectly. The only words he said were “NO!”, “BUH-BYE!”, and “ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR-FIVE!”, screamed like something was breaking. About a month after I first met him, I learned two more things: he was a foster child, and the previous night he had attempted to beat his foster mother to death and had almost succeeded.

Here’s what I learned about Kimba over the next three years: he is incredibly intellectually gifted. He taught himself to read. He has a system in which he classifies every person he encounters as a different animal based on personality, appearance, relationship and attitude towards him, and the pleasantness of their encounter. He may be autistic, he may have various brain injuries, he might be selectively mute, he definitely had lead poisoning. He uses language obliquely, employing rich and innovative metaphors. He analyzes the symbolism in Disney movies, but his favorite television series is Kimba The White Lion. He taught himself how to use Google. He speed-reads. He spent the first nine years of his life in one of the most horrifically abusive environments my state has on record.

Kimba and I, now, spend most of our time in lifeskills together. We are virtually inseparable. I was the one who proved that he could read far above the level he was assigned. I am the only person he willingly lets touch his speech-generating device when he’s having trouble finding the words. He’s held my hand when I randomly dissociated, and he’s grabbed my phone and texted KIMBA when he thought I was spending too long talking to the White House. When he wants to bang his head, now, he grabs my hands and I squeeze at his ears until he can breathe again. He puts his hands on my head and does the same for me.

For three years, Kimba and I have stood (often literally) hand-in-hand, united, in our very different pain and very different ways, against a world designed to shut us out. I curled around him when he was having flashbacks and he copied my bitch-face and employed it against incompetent substitutes. I foiled his plans and told his general-ed teachers that he could, in fact, read very well, and he tried to teach me how to wink. When I left lifeskills for a while to attempt college I said good-bye and he held on and wouldn’t let go. I came back, defeated. We saw each other again and smiled with mouths that had forgotten how.

I wonder if he got so mad at me for going to Washington because he had overheard what was going to happen next.

While I was sitting in a humid room and watching as people stared at me and explained that the world would be better for everyone if we inconvenient autistics just didn’t exist, plans were being made to put Kimba away. While I was getting job offers for my distilled fury and ability to wax eloquent about how my life sucks, it was being decided that the considerable, unbelievable, overwhelming progress Kimba has made in every respect over the last three years isn’t good enough. While I was staring in disbelief as Geraldine Dawson pontificated about the suffering of “autism families”, people were sitting at tables, sipping stale coffees, and deciding that, since Kimba hasn’t recovered quickly enough from his trauma, he needs to be institutionalized.

It was announced today, and finances should be finalized by next week. On Wednesday, June 22nd, Kimba will complete the seventh grade at the middle school. He will eat an end-of-the-year cupcake that we will make, as he will not be invited to participate with his general-ed class. We will carefully gather up the last of his projects and load them into the same battered backpack he’s had for three years, a backpack that will be thrown away with his projects that night because he won’t need it—any of it—any more. We will pack up his device, the notes we’ll have scribbled to his new staff saying he can read very well, actually, and here is a Kimba-to-English dictionary, you’ll need it if he ever decides to talk to you and the notes we’ll have labored over for him: love you, miss you, you’ve grown up so much, it’s going to be okay. We’ll smile, we’ll lie, we’ll tell him that he will love his new school and that we’ll be allowed to visit.

On Wednesday, June 22nd, we’ll say good-bye and try to memorize what his smile looked like. On Thursday, June 23rd, he’ll disappear into a residential program.

They said they know he loves animals. He can work on their farm.

I now count three kids I know and have worked with who, since December, have been institutionalized. This is three out of ten. Five out of fifteen, if I push the timeline back a year. We incarcerate people because they kill other people, because they rape or because they steal or because they make our world unsafe—and now, apparently, because they are just a little too inconvenient. Funny. You don’t even get a trial when your crime is drooling or not talking, when your sin is PTSD or autism, when the thing you did wrong was being born and then not quite meeting expectations.

You just get put away.

I wanted to tell you about Kimba. I wanted to ask you what I am supposed to do tomorrow morning. I wanted to say that it doesn’t matter that things this wrong aren’t ever supposed to actually happen; they do anyways. I wanted to see if maybe, now, you understood—I don’t write to touch, to inspire, to move people, I write because this happens every day, I write because how are we supposed to keep on, I write because a thirteen year old boy is being taken away.

I wanted to tell you about Kimba, because you have to understand that he underlines everything I say and write. I wanted you to meet him before he’s thrown away like human garbage. I wanted someone to give a damn. I wanted to tell you about Kimba because, because, because

….because I can’t save this one, because I can’t save him, because we have sixty-two days, because oh god, oh god, I can’t save this one, because I forgot that even this tiny little somewhere-only-we-know only exists because nowhere is safe and nothing is allowed us, because oh, oh, oh. Because they are taking Kimba away.

Because thirteen is too young to die.

Written by Julia

April 29, 2011 at 12:42 am