Category Archives: This Just In

Interesting news, research, articles, and whatnot in the world of autism spectrum disorders.

Letter to the NEA: “On the Chronically Tarded and Medically Annoying”

k11878021Recently, a speech by NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia on what teachers are expected to do each day flooded social media.  While many shared the clip and applauded some of its excellent points, it didn’t take long for outrage to set in.  When discussing the challenges inherent to differentiating classroom instruction, Ms. Garcia listed a series of learning disabilities that ended with the phrase “the chronically tarded and medically annoying.”  That didn’t go over well with a lot of people, including me.

Setting aside my initial dismay at her choice of words, I was further disappointed by your response to the controversy.  First, there was a delay.  Now, this video went viral.  I personally saw it dozens of times in my Facebook and Twitter feeds.  Had I been her, the moment I realized I’d thrown out the word tarded, I wouldn’t have waited to correct it.  I would have immediately raced to my social media accounts and begged forgiveness for my verbal blunder.

She didn’t do that.  A month following her speech, she tweeted to the effect of it was an error (“stepping on a word”) combined with a poorly conceived joke.  (I’m guessing social media’s negative reaction to those tweets is why she deleted them shortly thereafter.)  I confess that like other advocates for special needs, I’m having difficulty with her explanation.

chillThat’s because the rest of the speech was fantastic. She channeled her inner Winston Churchill in a way that was well-considered, thought-provoking, and passionate.  At first, I was cheering her on and enjoying that feeling of “Yes, she’s speaking for us!”  Then came the tarded and annoying line, and my jaw dropped.

I have no idea whether or not she accidentally tripped over the word tardy or not.  I could have bought that and probably would’ve with a prompt and dignified apology – were that the only problem with her sentence.  But it wasn’t. It was followed by the phrase “medically annoying.”  She explained that was a badly worded joke, triggering a real “What you talking about, Willis?” moment for me.  As I said, the rest of her speech was excellent.  And, see, stirring speeches don’t happen by accident.  Churchill’s iconic rallying words weren’t extemporaneous and neither were hers.  She obviously took some time with it. It was the kind of speech or essay a writer goes over and over, picking out the weeds, because you know it to be truth, and you want that truth conveyed.  I find it difficult to believe she wouldn’t have questioned her joke.  Since all of the other items in the series preceding it were a legitimate, non-humorous list of learning disabilities, it doesn’t even make sense to have the last two be jokes out of context. And the second one is a play of words on a phrase used to describe children who are hooked up to tracheostomy tubes and portable oxygen.  How could that possibly seem like a good joke?

Next, she posted her video apology and elaborated on the same explanation.  I’ve already stated why many of us are unsatisfied with it.  However, I wasn’t lining up with those demanding her resignation.  (Since I don’t purport to know where her heart was when she wrote that line, I’m not willing to sign a petition for her removal.)  But her apology video is where things got worse.  She laughed.  She laughed about a controversy that – whether unkind or simply ill-conceived – had a lot of people believing she made fun of disabled children.  While serving as the president of the nation’s largest teacher’s union, a powerful group of people one would hope would be sensitive to the needs of special education students.  Special needs students who have families who love them dearly.  Families who struggle more than most to prepare their children for an uncertain future.  Mothers like me, up at 2AM writing to you on a laptop in the dark, awake with an autistic child who suffers serious sleep issues. And, instead of apologizing in a respectful manner befitting the high emotions surrounding this controversy, she laughed.  I hope it doesn’t come as a surprise that many of us did not share her amusement. There’s a…not-so-subtle tone of censure in her laughter for any of us crazy enough to believe that was her intention. Perhaps it wasn’t her intention to say those things. But since she did, she fails to see the onus is on her to prove it – not giggle about it.

But even that’s not what’s most upsetting.  Now, I’ll admit I’m not familiar with the inner workings of a large advocacy group, but I cannot imagine an organization as big as the NEA doesn’t have a team on this.  Not solely dedicated perhaps, but I’m guessing you folks at the very least held a meeting on this drama.  A meeting staffed with some highly educated people in the education profession.  Since I doubt she prepared, produced, and posted the video all alone, that means that other people in the top seats of the NEA also thought the response to be an appropriate one.  That’s what’s really bothering me.

You see, not only am I the parent of a special needs child, I’m a teacher.  I am also a fellow NEA member.  I am one of you.  And today I’m embarrassed to be associated with you.

No, I’m not calling for anyone’s resignation. There’s entirely too much of that sort of thing these days, and I’m sure you’re probably perfectly nice people who’ve made some errors in judgment. But I want you to know – because it matters – how your handling of this situation has disappointed our profession by further damaging already shaky perceptions parents of special needs children have about public education. Not by a simple mistake, but a series of them – highlighting your (and, by association, teachers’) insensitivity and lack of respect for the very people we seek to serve.  Children.  Since you are teachers, I shouldn’t have to remind you of the higher standard to which we are held.  Simply put: The “largest labor union committed to advancing the cause of public education” either inadvertently or intentionally insulted our most vulnerable students.  And then voted to post a video laughing about it. 

 What you’re supposed to do when you hurt people is apologize, quickly and respectfully.  You’re supposed to be forthright in your explanation.  And if you are a major policy leader, you’re supposed to shout your dissatisfaction with your actions and commitment to improvement from the rooftop.  That fact that all of you couldn’t see to do that doesn’t speak well for your advocacy for special education students and teachers in this country, who are presumably included under the umbrella of your mission statement.

I sincerely hope you hold another meeting.  I hope that you don’t choose to chalk this up to a culture increasingly easy to offend.  You are the National Education Association. I implore you to understand that more is and should be expected of your leadership.  What we do and whom we serve are too important for flippancy.

Teacher, teach thyself.

 

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Dear Joe Scarborough – On Autism and Violence

Video Link

Dear Joe Scarborough,

Today, you made some comments that infuriated the autism advocacy world.

You stated:

“As soon as I hear about this shooting, I knew who it was. I knew it was a young, white male, probably from an affluent neighborhood, disconnected from society — it happens time and time again. Most of it has to do with mental health; you have these people that are somewhere, I believe, on the autism scale…I don’t know if that’s the case here, but it happens more often than not. People that can walk around in society, they can function on college campuses — they can even excel on college campuses — but are socially disconnected.”

There are a lot of angry folks out there who sincerely believe you are ignorant, fear mongering, reckless, and using your own child’s diagnosis as a prop for your ratings.

And you know what?  I’m not one of them.  And that’s not because I am a fan.  I don’t watch a lot of TV these days and haven’t watched your show enough to have an opinion of you one way or the other.

So no, I don’t think you are evil.  I think that, like every parent of every child, you probably love yours just as much as I love mine.  And I’m not so jaded in my political views that I assume you and other talking heads don’t care about real people and the effects of your commentary.  I may be naive, but, like Anne Frank, I think most people are essentially good at heart.  I’m going to have faith that applies to you as well.

But I do think that you fell victim to one of the easiest pitfalls of personal experience — that of envisioning yourself as an expert.  Probably all of us in the autism parenting/advocacy world do that to some degree when encountering the subject open for discussion.  Herein lies the problem.  Unlike most of us, you have the ear of the world.  And a world that may simply be distractedly listening in while cutting up a salad and listening for the rinse cycle.  They likely will not follow what I believe is your hypothesis — that of communication disorders being linked to social ostracization and social rejection often being a cause of young mass murderers.  I’m hoping that this what you meant — that any noticeable difference can lead to social rejection/bullying and that the sometimes subsequent depression can be a breeding ground for hatred and retaliatory violence.

But, Mr. Scarborough, that’s not what you said.  What you said was so general as to imply that autism is directly related to mass murder.  And this scares me.  Because much of the public will perceive this to mean that autistics are inherently dangerous to the general population.  When, in reality, it is the opposite.  Statistically, persons with developmental disabilities and mental illness are more likely to be harmed by the rest of us.  They are more likely than you or me to be harassed, bullied, abused, and defrauded.  And, if the public suddenly begins to fear them, we can be assured more of the same.  For it is always fear that begets violence.  Whether it was your intention or not, you have now contributed to that fear.  For the sake of my autistic child, yours, and everyone else’s, I am now more afraid than before you spoke.

Mr. Scarborough, if you unintentionally misspoke, please correct it.  Clarify your position, and take some time to do some damage control — not on your own behalf, but on behalf of your son and the autistic community you have mischaracterized.  And, if you spoke intentionally, then I challenge you to do some research on links between violence and autism and report back.  I think you might find yourself surprised.

You, sir, have an opportunity to do what most of us as parents of spectrum children cannot — brighten the path of our special children by educating and preparing the world to understand them.

That is a blessing that most mothers and fathers of autistic children would not cast aside lightly.  Neither should you.

Sincerely,

Flappiness Is

From Autism Speaks Official Blog: A Sister’s Response to My “Silencing Ourselves” Post

A Sister’s Response…  Here’s a response to my post “Silencing Ourselves: A Plea for Civility to the ASD Community” from a sister’s point of view.  This is a guest post on the Autism Speaks official blog by Ali Dyer, a Social Media Coordinator for Autism Speaks.

This includes a downloadable “Sibling Support Tool Kit” to help kids aged 6-12 who have a sibling with autism.  It is a guide to help parents assist siblings with their feelings about a brother or sister’s diagnosis.

http://blog.autismspeaks.org/2012/02/03/silencing-ourselves-a-sisters-response/

Giveaway Winner!

‎Our “What I Wish I’d Known About Raising a Child With Autism” book giveaway winner is: Robin (Last name unknown as of yet)! Her winning question was: “If you could give any advice to parents on how to teach our children to cope with being teased and bullied for being “different”, what would it be?”

Robin’s question will be featured in my upcoming Autism Panel Interview featuring 5 adult individuals with ASD. Details coming soon.  (I’m really excited about this interview.)  Congratulations, Robin. Your book will be on its way soon – as soon as you check your email. :)