Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Business of Breaking Children

I spent some time with a friend one evening this week and one of the conversations we had surrounding her preschooler brought back so many memories of when my oldest child started school.

My friend's child is vibrant, energetic, and brilliant. Her mind and body are very active and always running. She is all smiles and giggles. She is just an absolutely beautiful 4 yr. old child.

My friend was showing me her daughter's school communication folder and I read some of the notes written about her child from the teacher. I recognized so many of the comments because I had read similar notes before with my own child just 12 years ago when he started school.

As I moved through some of the comments while looking at the green, yellow and red dots in her folder, I became very sad. I told my friend

  "They are going to try to break her." 

My friend responded with a sarcastic tone

"I know, she's not a good little solider". 

This child's parents also believe the teacher has already labeled their daughter as one of the "problem students", which is something I became painfully aware of myself as my own son journeyed through his elementary years.

My heart hurts to know there are children that enter into our public school system only to have their smiles stolen, their spirits broken, and their self esteem stripped away. It's so painful to know that the main focus for these particular children will be their "behavior" and how they are not fitting into neat little boxes, instead of how to best support, accept and teach them.

Tears well up in my eyes to know they will be constantly told the way they are is not the way they should be, when there is absolutely nothing wrong with the way they are to begin with.

I have written about the fear of breaking my own son and vowing never to intentionally do so. I have seen the damage this can do to a child with my own son. I've shared numerous dialogues with many others who have witnessed or been through this same thing.

When your child is labeled the "problem child" in education, whether or not they are disabled, they are put under a microscope. Every.little.thing. is noticed. They get blamed for everything that goes wrong in an environment regardless if they did it or not.

Eventually (and rather quickly) other students catch on to this as well and tend to feed the fire the teacher started. It's bullying perpetuated by adults, even though it's not seen this way because it's totally acceptable in society to treat *those* kids this way.

Unfortunately, I am aware of extreme disciplinary actions that tend to go with this territory: the referrals for petty things, the suspensions for nonviolent infractions (like not wearing a belt *gasp* OH! The horror!!! ), the phone calls, the conferences and even the threats of alternative learning placements for kids with "behavioral issues".  I know how things can get worse when you refuse to *prove* to the school that you're parenting the way they think you should.

I've often felt like (and still feel) if I reported back to teachers that I completely humiliated my child by doing things that would cause long term damage, they would be satisfied. Satisfied, because then my child would be broken. After all, it's much easier to manipulate broken pieces.

It's like this: It's pretty easy to break a square and put it back together as a triangle, only you'd have a piece missing. In children that piece represents their spirit, which includes : creativity, self esteem, and individuality. 
Image is a comic strip with three sections side by side. The first section shows a dark skinned female teacher in from of a classroom full of triangles meant to represent students and one square. The speech bubble above her head reads "Johnny Square you are inappropriate, come here this instant" The second section shows the teacher knocking the top line of the square out with her hand, and those pieces falling , the speech bubble reads "There this should fix the problem" The third section shows the teacher standing beside a now cracked triangle that has the speech bubble *sniff* above it signifying sadness, to the left of the triangle on the floor are 3 straight lines scattered with RIP Johnny's spirit written above it The speech bubble above the teachers head reads "Much better. You may return to your seat now Johnny.

These little squares are the kids deemed: defiant, noncompliant, oppositional, and just BAD. But, these are not violent, dangerous children I'm speaking of. These are the kids that go against the grain, they challenge authority, they think for them self, they know how to say "No", and they ask questions.

Maybe they have trouble sitting still, talk too much, have trouble focusing, day dream, don't talk enough, get bored quickly, or struggle in certain areas significantly and soar in others. 

Perhaps they are extremely sensitive, they refuse to do things before they are ready to, they don't show their work, they see busy work as ridiculous but they pass all the tests.

But, most importantly they refuse to conform just to make someone else's job easy. Because let's face it, that's what compliance is about in school. We're fed the lie that it is to get them ready for the real world. However, the real world is nothing like school.

If you're a teacher reading this, please understand... I know your job is hard, I couldn't do it. You became a teacher to teach, not wade through the bureaucratic bullshit that gets in the way of you teaching what needs to be taught. 

You have little support sometimes from your own administration, you are bound by federal and state mandates to teach things a certain way, in a certain amount of time. You're forced to shove standardized testing prep down our children's throats when you'd rather be teaching them applicable skills.

I know.

So, in order to do the job the government demands from you, you have to demand our children be, as my friend stated, good little soldiers.

My friend and I both agree... All we want is for our children to be HAPPY, successful and left unbroken. And we ask, how? Is that even possible anymore in public education? I'm not even sure.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Are You Aware?

Today is “World Autism Awareness Day” and this month is “Autism Awareness Month”. I am not, even in the slightest way, excited about this. 

Seeing all that blue makes me ill.

Reading stories from parents who have nothing better to do than to whine, complain, humiliate their kids to garner sympathy and twist the words of neurodiversity activists is beyond anything I can take.

Of course, April isn’t the only time these things are present, but it is a time where it is the most concentrated because parents have a special month all to themselves.

Wait! What? Autism Awareness Month is for parents?

You may be thinking “Well I thought Autism Awareness was for Autistic people, you know those who actually are Autistic”

Well, you would think that a month dedicated to the "awareness"  of a certain group of people would actually be for them. You would think that those people might even benefit from the "awareness."

That type of logical thinking will get you nowhere with “autism parents”  though,  because autism awareness is anything but about Autistic people.

Autism Awareness is about how hard the lives of autism parents are.

Autism Awareness is about how broken Autistic people are.

Last year Autistic activist Amy Sequenzia penned the tongue in cheek piece "April is Autism Speaks Awareness Month" where she describes a pseudo-disorder called "Autism Speaks Rhetoric Disorder" (ASRD). Amy lists the symptoms of ASRD as:

  • People who contract ASRD will begin giving a lot of money to Autism Speaks walks that lead to nowhere; 
  • They will have a fascination for blue lights and puzzle pieces, believing these symbols help Autistic people; 
  • They will slowly lose their ability to question absurd claims that do not have much in common with the reality of their lives and with who their child really is; 
  • They will become so lost in the symptoms of this terrible disorder that they will not notice that not even one of the promises of help from Autism Speaks has been fulfilled;
Amy goes on to list more Characteristics:

  • The one characteristic that makes ASRD so tragic is the fact that many parents allow the worse flare-ups of the disorder to cloud their love for their children. They stop helping building the child’s self-esteem.
  • They stop presuming competence 
  • They stop dreaming
  • They lose hope 
  • They miss every awesome moment 
  • They give up

While Amy's piece and ASRD are satirical, the sad fact is this is also very much a reality. These are the types of people that we hear from when it comes to autism and they drown out the voices of Autistic people.

Last year, I received an email from my son's school asking him to wear blue to school for "Autism Awareness Day". I was beyond furious. Their email started out like this: 

"As most of you already know, April is Autism Awareness month. April 2 (tomorrow) is WORLD Autism Awareness Day. We really would like for everyone to wear BLUE tomorrow to help with raising awareness of Autism."

Over half of that school is Autistic, so I'm pretty sure everyone there was aware. So, I was confused. I sent them back an email:

"I don't know if you are aware, but I am on the Autistic spectrum and we do not participate in autism awareness month in our home. I am actually a part of a huge Autistic community and we celebrate Autism Acceptance Month in lieu of "awareness". 

D will not be wearing blue, because we don't support autism speaks in this household. Light it up blue and the color blue for autism awareness are autism speaks initiatives. Please also let everyone know that since the school is participating in this, I can not, with a good conscious send him to school to be subjected to the very thing we are against."

You see what I did there?... I used the word "Aware" .

Personal Note: My son no longer goes to this school,but not because of  this incident. However, one could say ASRD was the cause of me having his placement changed

The phone call I received a few days later started out with how they didn't mean to offend me, but they were not doing blue to support Autism Speaks, only to honor "kids with autism" and give them a special day. 

Which brings me to my next points: 

First off, Light it up Blue for autism came about because of Autism Speaks, they created it. They also chose the color blue because more boys are diagnosed Autistic than girls.

Second, if you are doing it to honor a loved one you do not need a special day or month to celebrate their neurology. Autistic and other neurodivergent kids should feel celebrated and proud regardless of what day or month it is. 

What makes it even worse is the driving force behind the color blue and awareness campaigns is how horrible autism is and how Autistic people wreck the lives of others. 

They say: BEWARE, Be Afraid, Fear Autism...

These campaigns do nothing to really educate anyone about autism. 

Image courtesy of
Image description: picture of home under a
giant rock. The background of the image is
 blue lights. Text reads:
Can the three people that aren't 'aware'
of Autism even see the blue lights from
where they must live?
Sure, if you ask someone if they have heard of autism they'd probably say yes. But, ask them what they know and the majority will either spout of misconceptions or say nothing at all. That is what Awareness campaigns accomplish. 

Awareness campaigns tell the public that Autistic people are outcasts in society because of their autism. 

They tell society that we are completely miserable, that we are trapped, that we have been kidnapped from our families, stolen, lost... 

But,the people running these campaigns don't ask Autistic people if that is how they feel. They tell us that is how we should feel and to "shhh be quiet, because grown-ups are talking." 

They are the ones making us the outcasts by deliberately excluding Autistic people from our own advocacy. 

Autistic people need Acceptance. 

Awareness campaigns do not bring about true Acceptance and authentic inclusion in society. They bring fear and even more exclusion. They turn autism into a fashion statement, a money making scheme, something to make other people feel good... while still making sure Autistic people are outcasts. 

It's time we stop blue-washing the month of April and move past Autism "awareness". 

It's time to promote Autism Acceptance and a good start would be to hand over the "autism platform" to people who are actually Autistic.