Monthly Archives: July 2015
Reprinted with permission from the poet. More of her work can be seen on the Ink and Daggers tumblr
I do write quite a bit more than draw, but I tend to keep most of that private. I also don’t write a whole lot of poetry. I did write this one though. I’ve worked with autistic folks, mostly young children, for the better part of the last decade. Autism and disability are the major focus of most of my creative works, as a space to process my own struggles with the “disability services sector.”
Content warning for ableist, institutional child abuse.
“My name is Christine and I work with children with autism”
the first time i hurt a child
my boss tells me i am good at my job
the second time i hurt a child
my boss tells me i am good at my job
the third time i hurt a child
my boss tells me i am good at my job
i like my job
i am good at my job
my boyfriend hates picking me up after work
he says its the sterile environment
schools shouldn’t look like a hospital, he says
i feel exhausted as i reflect on the sterile, clinical building
then i remember that this isn’t a school
this is a treatment center
i’m so sorry
but that is not earning your token
he asks me if i’ll do the horsie song
i’m sitting in the shade and he plummets into my lap before i can respond
it is a rare treat for him to speak
i can’t help but indulge him, so i sing
“this is how the ladies ride, up and down, side by side
this is how the horsies go, yippity yi, yippity yo!”
he laughs and thanks me before bolting back to the playground
i lose count of how many times i hurt children
i don’t know if its the hundreth or thousanth or millionth time i hurt a child
i’m holding a spray bottle of vinegar
he spits it out after the third time
sobbing, he tells me that he hates his life and wants to die
six years old
the kid sitting next to him cannot speak, and instead starts wailing
i’m a bad person, i think
my boss tells me that i am not doing my job
i go home and cry
the next day i don’t hesitate
my boss calls all the classroom staff in for a meeting
she tells us that we need to stop being so affectionate with the children
it is unprofessional and inappropriate, she insists
she warns us that we will be put on corrective action for any future offenses
a week later he asks me if i will sing the horsie song
so i sing him the horsie song
after our sessions are over, my boss calls me into her office
i am put on corrective action
but that’s how you do the horsie song, i argue
i warned you, she reminds me
i am told there will be a few positions open for full time
i am encouraged to apply
i begin filling out the application
i think about the pay raise
i think about having my own classroom
i think about training new staff
i think about what we do
i turn off the computer before i finish the application
i leave the center and never come back
my new job is much better
but the center is still open
less than five minutes away from my apartment
hundreds of children still spend their days there
no longer seeing it doesn’t make it any less of a material reality
There have been many posts from parents lamenting the things that their child’s disability apparently “robbed” them of. Every child deserves to be treated with love, acceptance, respect and dignity by their parents. When your child is Autistic, that does not mean you get a “pass” on those things. Having a disabled child will only “rob” you if you insist on measuring your child’s worth based on how well they can do things just like everybody else. Disability will not “rob” you, but unchecked ableism certainly will rob both you and your child of a beautiful and loving relationship.
These Are The Things My Parent’s Ableism Robbed From Me:
Pride & Self Esteem
My parents think that disability is shameful. They use words like “differently abled” to describe me because they think that calling me disabled is an insult. They do not have many Disabled friends, so they do not know there is such a thing as disability pride.
They are always apologizing for the things I can’t do, or for the things that make me look different. It makes me feel ashamed to be who I am. Every time I am made to feel ashamed instead of proud, I am learning internalized ableism.
My parents put me in therapies that will make me “indistinguishable”, that train me how to make eye contact and act more like non Autistic children. These therapies teach me how to pretend and how to lie about who I really am. They teach me that my body and mind are not my own, and that my natural way of being in this world, my ways of coping are wrong. When I say “no”, I am “noncompliant”. Adults can do whatever they want to me and it’s my job to let them.
Though I would like to play and learn in my own way, in my own time, I am in therapies every day so I have little time left to myself. I go to school, I go to therapy, and I have few opportunities to learn by exploring and following my own interests.
My parent’s ableism tells them that they are saintly and “special” for raising me. I see disabled children killed or abused by their parents or caregivers on the news all the time, and people defending them because the child was like me. I am constantly bombarded with messages that kids like me are a burden and that parents like mine are “special people” for putting up with me. It makes me think that killing me or hurting me is something that people should expect. Loving me is something that only a “special person” can do.
My parents talk about how much I cost, and how much stress I put on them. They talk about all the things that I need help with, as if they are personality flaws. My very existence is a problem that they wish they could solve. It is hard to feel like I have value as I am when everyone is always complaining about what I cost and measuring how much my life is worth based on the amount of help and support I need.
A Place In My Community
When I go to school, I am taught in a separate room away from most other kids. I can join in the “regular” classrooms when I am able to perform as not Autistic/Disabled well enough. Everyone talks about maybe someday “mainstreaming” me, but I would rather be accepted and supported in an inclusive environment. Those are things that I hear are too hard for people to do. It’s too much work to include me, they say.
My parents are afraid to take me places because I might embarrass them or act up. They say they wish they could go to nice restaurants or vacations but they can’t because of me. I think that if they would try to understand and support me, we could do those things though. Maybe instead of going to a loud restaurant with too many decorations on the wall, too many tables close together, we could go to a quieter place or maybe go to eat at a quieter time when less people are there, but they don’t think to do those things. They are just mad that it’s too hard for me to be around lots of noise and smells and people, so they keep me isolated at home. They blame me for being disabled, but not their own lack of creativity or empathy.
Because of my parent’s ableism, they think that friendships can only look one way. They do not understand that sometimes it’s easier for me to be friends with someone older or younger than me. They do not want me to be friends with other Autistic people, especially those that they think are not “high functioning” enough. They don’t know that those labels hurt us because their ableism makes sure they don’t think to talk to Autistic people.
Instead of being allowed to pursue my own friends, my parents want me to have a “peer buddy”. A “peer” is not the same as a friend, but that does not matter to them. My “peer buddy” gets to know all sorts of private information about me that I did not consent to sharing. My “peer buddy” will model social skills and be a helper, but will not think that I have anything to offer. A real friendship means that both people help each other but because of ableism, nobody thinks I can help or be a good friend.
When I have a difficult time, my parents “vent” to friends and strangers alike about how hard it is for them to deal with me. Sometimes, my parents tell others more about me than I am allowed to know about myself. If I have a meltdown, because I am overwhelmed, or frustrated…. my parents tell the world that I am “aggressive” and talk about my private moments without my consent. They tell everyone that I am unable to speak for myself, even when my “behaviors” are speaking loud and clear. I am not allowed to expect privacy or dignity because my parent’s need for toxic “support” is more important.
These are some of the things ableism takes from us, but it doesn’t have to.