Thursday, February 23, 2012

N is for Dealing with Nonsense

Nonsense. It sounds like a simple word. Something innocuous. Something silly. Something non-threatening. Something from a key-stone-cop skit.

But it is not a nothing. Nonsense can have a devastating effect on your child and you. It is the energy we have to spend dealing with nonsense that is debilitating. It is the energy we have to expend fighting the nonsense.

Now there are several different types of nonsense that I think about when I think about nonsense. The first kind of nonsense has to do with misconceptions that people have about autism. Most of this is good natured, not ill-felt, but just ill-informed.  I have yet to come across someone who when having something explained to them about special education or autism doesn't become terribly embarrassed by their own ignorance. OK, in the past we have had some very bad interactions with teachers and an old school district, but that wasn't because they were ill-informed that was because they were human-lowlifes. Different than what I am talking about now. And yes, even after some discussion you still have people who refuse to accept that people with disabilities are well, people. But these individuals you really can't do anything about and unless they are in your private life not something you should concern yourself with either. You can't always fix stupid or evil....

I have had many interactions with people who just don't get special education. They don't understand invisible disabilities. They don't understand our lives. Honestly if we were not immersed in this community I doubt we would understand either. I remember when CM1 was brought back in district as a first grader and parents were absolutely besides themselves in our community. I was furious, but hubby, as always the Wise Old Sage, mentioned that if the child was not ours and we did not have an understanding of autism and all we knew was from "Rainman," how would we feel? Honestly, hubby has always been alot more charitable than I ever was or truthfully will ever be. But in this case he happened to be correct.

It was not so much the fault of the parents for their misunderstanding, well OK it was somewhat of their fault, but the school district handled it very poorly. They didn't hold informational sessions about special education, disabilities or autism. They just sent a letter home to the families saying that their child was in a new program, the co-teaching program, which meant that there were special education students in their child's class.

It wasn't until the parents started having conniption fits that the school decided to hold a meeting. I didn't go, but another of the special needs parents went. You see, I knew what was gong to happen and I had a feeling I knew the ignorance that was going to abound. The other special-needs father came home devastated by these parents' hurtfulness. Yes there were nasty and ignorant things that parents said. Yes these parents were unkind and self-centered. How even when the reality was related to them, they refused to bring themselves out of their own stupidity. Yet the school persevered and these parents had no choice except to pull their children out of the public school system if they objected.

It was related to me that one man actually threatened to sue the district if they had an inclusion program, saying it affected his daughters ability to get into Harvard. I kid you not. The district director clearly related the relevant law (IDEA and ADA) to the man and told him that they were following the law and he was welcome to pull his daughter out of school. Now what happened with his child I do not know. Whether this girl ever went to an ivy league let alone Harvard is unclear. But I figured with that father she had enough problems in her life so I never pursued the question. Now I know that there was one student from our district who did end up at Harvard, but it definitely was not the girl in question.

This type of educational environment, co-teaching, was new in our district and alot of those type A personality parents did not like it, not one iota. Their attitudes, and I am sure the discussions at home, were not predisposed to treating CM1 and the other special ed children with kindness. But you would never get them to admit that any of it was their fault, their lack of parenting ability or their own inadequacy.

These parents would never admit that their lack of compassion resulted in quite frankly their children picking on CM1 and then alienating him. In fact one of these same parents routinely received community volunteering awards and is still thought of quite highly in the community as a "righteous person." When I even mentioned to some that her son was one of the bullies, I was accused of being jealous of her and of being a liar. 

Luckily CM1 always had a para. I am glad that there was an adult with him throughout those 12 years. I can't imagine what it would have been like if he had to handle that all on his own.

So CM1 was the experiment in school. Unfortunately it seems that CM1 has always been the experiment throughout his life. Luckily he is a strong youngman with direction and drive. He has strength of character, will, morals and ethics that he doesn't need peer support for. He is his own person, an individual. When CM1 was a toddler, way before we knew he was autistic, other parents used to tell me that he marched to the beat of his own drummer. Thankfully that individualized beat is what gets him where he wants to go.
Yes, our district does not broker bullying of any kind and the blatant and overt bullying stopped very quickly. But it was the alienation that continued through high school that was never dealt with, especially by these brain-dead, blind and moronic parents, that cause the most damage. They never saw the connection to their family discussions and their homelife as to how CM1 or other invisibly-differentlyabled would be treated. The irony here is that I know for a fact that so many of these families would be horrified if their child would participate in anything racist or homophobic, but they did not even blink an eye when their children participated in alienating CM1.

Sadly if there was no physical or interactive bullying of any kind then the school does nothing. They can't make someone be your child's friend, they tell you. But alienation can be just as harmful as overt bullying. It took years of therapy to help CM1 understand that there are people in this world who would like him and would be happy to be his friend.

Now here's the kicker. When it came to CM2 the overwhelming majority of his educational experience had been positive. It was not accepted by the children that he would be bullied, alienated or hurt in anyway. No, CM2 was not the party-guy or even invited to parties, but that was OK. School was a safe venture for him and the other students enjoyed his company. Honestly I do think the other students just didn't understand him and that is OK too. I understand that it is not easy being a teenager, and as long as the children were kind to him on a daily basis, not being invited to parties where there is alcohol and whatnot did not bother me. Also until 11th grade CM2 even had a best friend and when that ended CM2's special ed teacher got him involved in the bowling team/club to give him a social outlet.

I remember when CM2 was in second grade and of course it was a co-taught classroom. There were 20 children in that class with a main teacher, a special ed teacher and a para in the room. At any given time there was an adult to help every child for any reason. One of the other parents told me how they loved being in a co-taught class for their child and asked me if I liked it too. She had no idea that CM2 was one of the designated children. No parent really knew who the special ed children happened to be.This parent simply thought that it was such a great thing, a terrific educational opportunity and considered her daughter lucky to be in that class. So not three years after CM1 started in the inclusion program, through education and information the district helped change an attitude of the community.

Well not everyone in the community of course, but a large percentage of them anyway. As I said you can't change everyone and you can't fix stupid. But I think as long as we try our best that is all anyone can ask of us.

Now, here's the second kind of  nonsense. Racist and ignorant antisemitism. I came across that today on Facebook. A woman, whom I have never met in real life of course, but whom I helped with her special needs son a while back, shared a link to an article. The article elicited some terribly evil antisemitic comments. I called her out about them. I said that the blogger didn't have to allow them through and quite frankly the blogger gave the commentor a pass on them and didn't address the hate. This special-needs-mother told me I was too hypersensitive and I had to prove to her that these comments were antisemitic. So I commented that when you accuse "Zionist, Mossad and bankers" of trying to create a one-world government that is antisemitic. I also told her that she was conveniently obtuse and ignorant.

Listen this wasn't a case of her not understanding. This was a case of her thinking it was all true and OK. How anyone in their right mind doesn't see antisemitic dog-whistles in Jewish conspiracy theories is beyond me. So I unfriended her. As I said before, I help people no matter who, no matter what, but don't disrespect me, my family, my religion, my heritage and my right to exist. Do that then to hell with you. You and your child are on your own.

So nonsense. Whether about autism or about everyday racism and antisemitism. You do not have to accept any of it from anyone. I think standing up for yourself and for what you believe in is important. There are many out there who promote mean and horrible notions, its only when we stand silent do we give them credence. Promoting awareness is a lifelong challenge no matter who you are and no matter what the cause. But it must be done and we must do it with our heads held high.

Abraham Lincoln once said, "To sin by silence, when they should protest, makes cowards of men." Don't let the nonsense turn you into a coward. It's not easy but its something we all have to to. It's the only way to make this a better world.

Until next time,