A few weeks ago, I did my usual news search for articles related to Autism. I found one article coming out of the Hampton Roads region of Virginia that disturbed me a great deal. It detailed police using a taser on a man with Asperger’s at the very mall I used to frequent with my son. Closer to home was a bus driver and assistant threatening to harm a child with Autism, one of the very children they were paid to safely transport to and from school. A third article coming out of Minnesota, I believe, discussed a Catholic Priest who obtained a restraining order against the mother of a child with Autism, forbidding her from bringing her son to church.
It seems the only clear cut issue here was the one concerning the student bus rider. In the case of the man at the mall, reports indicate that he was “disruptive” and “argumentative” with the staff and posed a threat to the safety of the public. In this instance, we must try to figure out many facts such as how adversely he was affected by his ASD and how the staff, security, and police force reacted to the rudeness of a customer. How accountable was the man for his actions and how much of a threat was he really? Of course the safety of the public is an issue and anyone capable of understanding the laws must obey them but was a law actually broken and was there a threat to anyone’s safety? I don’t know.
In the third case, I wanted desperately to side with the family barred from church. I know firsthand how difficult it can be finding a church that can and will accommodate families with special needs children. In my opinion, churches are supposed to be houses of God and all reasonable accommodations should be made. After all, don’t families dealing with the special needs of a relative need a little extra support from their religious community? I know that I never questioned my faith until my son was diagnosed. Through my child abuse and the disintegration of my family, through the death of my grandparents, through my stepfather’s death after 8 years of sobriety… my faith was strong. But as my son’s Autism became more apparent and my understanding of society’s apathy and unwillingness to even “see” my son grew, so did my crisis in my faith. It just seems to me that the people with the biggest challenges need that little extra attention and if they can’t find it in church, what hope is there that they will continue to look for it outside of a House of God? At the same time, the article mentioned the church’s previous attempts to accommodate the family and the mother’s unwillingness to compromise. I understand both sides of the issue and I am deeply torn. But that isn’t what bothers me the most.
Each of these articles had a comments section and in each case there were people who said the most hateful things about the families involved. Calls for eugenics, abortion, euthanasia, a return of insane asylums (never mind that if the public is unwilling to properly fund the few assisted living facilities in existence with decades long waiting lists they certainly aren’t going want to fund a return to the old institutions), and other horrible “solutions” to the “problem and burden” of disabled children. I know many of the people were just trolls trying to incite others but to even say many of things, they must have believed them. And there are people agreeing with the trolls. Parents of special needs children were accused of “shoving their retard kids down the throats of us normal people” and being “tax burdens” and all of the other Nazi like statements they could think of.
And I can’t help but think these are the majority. If most of the people commenting on these articles are decidedly against the developmentally disabled population does that mean that the majority of people in society could care less about my son? Is this what awaits my son when I can’t care for him anymore? I am actually terrified of growing old and dying because I don’t want to leave my son in this society. I can’t make society see my son for the wonderful person he is. If hundreds of years of civil rights movements can’t eradicate racism, how am I supposed to pave the way for my child in my own short lifetime? I can love and accept my son until the end of time but this alone will not insure his safety and well being in the future. I feel like there is nothing I can do yet I can’t accept that.
What do you think is our society’s “majority” view of children with special needs? How do you feel about the actions taken by the police, bus driver, and priest in the articles mentioned above?