Blargh

I have things to say, I just can’t access them past all the rage. So, all I can really say is that with regard to myself, my son, and various other people that I love – I feel that our right to exist, to live, our worth as human beings is under attack by the government right now.

Shocker? Maybe, maybe not. I’ve just never felt it so keenly. I guess that says something about my own privilege.

Circles

Parents of children with disabilities/special needs/whatever will often relate their experience to the well-known five stages of grief. Personally, I don’t find that these stages express my own experience well. I’ve never gone through denial or bargaining with regard to Monkey’s challenges. As for the other three – anger, depression, and acceptance – I go through all of those, but not in any kind of orderly sequence. They are all sort of jumbled up together. One will predominate for a while, then another for a while, and they move in circles, overlapping, mingling.

I don’t grieve for “the child I expected to have” or “the parent I thought I would be” or any of those things that people often mention. I’m not neurotypical, I never expected to have a neurotypical child, and if anything I’m probably a better parent than I thought I would be (I had low expectations). Monkey is so much awesomer than any child I could possibly have conjured up in my imagination. In my darkest moments I don’t wish for a different child.

No, what I wish for is a different world.

It’s the world that I grieve over. Sometimes – often – Monkey is the catalyst for that grief.

For instance, while we were on vacation, we took Monkey to the park. There was a little boy there who was the same age as him – their birthdays were a week apart. The boy was zipping around on a little scooter thing; he offered Monkey a turn. Monkey tried, but couldn’t figure it out. The boy kept talking, and Monkey couldn’t keep up with him verbally. Then the boy started literally riding in circles around Monkey, who stood in the middle, bewildered, still, uncertain.

I grieved over this incident for the rest of the day. It was just too perfectly symbolic of what I see so often, and what I know will often happen in Monkey’s life – that others will run circles around him.

I had a two hour meeting with therapists and school officials earlier this week in which we all talked about all the things he isn’t doing, all the things he struggles with and needs. He will be in a special needs preschool classroom. He will get physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy. He is behind his peers. He is developmentally delayed.

But that’s not how I see it. That is, I see the difference from his peers, and I see his struggles, but I don’t see those things in light of the value judgments that the world makes. I grieve because the world values people who are FAST, and people who are STRONG. People who are loud and flashy and attractive, who know how to lie and manipulate others. Those who can run circles. Meanwhile, the world overlooks, or disdains, those who are standing in the middle of the circle – quiet, thoughtful, slow, observant – the center, the gravity that makes the orbit.

Life, laminated

The most exciting thing that’s happened this week is that I came up with a new way to organize our growing collection of picture cards for Monkey’s visual supports. Ta da!

picture cards organizer 2

I had previously tried organizing them with paper clips or rubber bands, and sorting them in envelopes. They have velcro on the back, so they don’t stack nicely, and both of these methods, at their most functional, created too much clutter. I considered something like a binder but then I came up with this lovely system, which is more readily accessible and better suited to what we are using them for. The stickers can be easily peeled off to change categories as needed, and there’s plenty of room for more cards. Yay!

We first started using picture cards with Monkey about a year ago, maybe a little more than a year. He was around 18 months. We started with photographs of different foods that he would eat and a choice board. At the time, he had basically no speech that we could understand, so we used the board and pictures like a rudimentary PECS system that allowed him to tell us what he wanted to eat or drink.

Fast forward to now. Monkey is HIGHLY verbal, and we are steadily increasing our use of visual supports. But why is that needed, if he can talk?

It’s not – I just really enjoy laminating stuff.

Just kidding. Although Monkey can offer up such complete sentences as “I wasn’t exactly expecting to see a dragon in my backyard today”*, he often can’t answer the question of whether he wants milk or juice. He has a delay in processing other people’s language. If you offer him a picture of milk and a picture of juice, then he is able to process what his options are, make a choice, and tell you (or point to the picture, but he usually also says the word).

He is much better able to process visual information than auditory information. (His hearing has been tested and is great, by the way. He loves the sound of birds outside.) The more words you use and the more complicated what you are saying (eg. a sequence of steps or events, two-part commands), the less likely he is to understand. And since he has anxiety around transitions, we started using picture schedules shortly after his second birthday, to let him know what’s coming and what’s expected, and to give structure to his day.

Right now, there’s a corner of our living room that is basically a shrine to visual supports. In addition to my lovely organizer pictured above, there’s a daytime schedule and a bedtime routine schedule, both with velcro so we can change them. Then there’s an activity schedule for structured play-time, an activity choice board for unstructured play time, a first-then board (“first wash hands, then snack”), and I am in the process of making a very simple token board. I’m also considering making some cards to put on a key-ring and carry in the diaper bag – for instance, one that says we’re “leaving soon”.

The activity schedules are fairly new and it’s amazing how his play has changed already. The bedtime schedule has been particularly helpful with his anxiety about bath-time. He was getting hysterical every time we put him in the bath, to the point that we couldn’t wash him at all. Apparently, this was because he never knew if we were going to wash his hair or not. If I told him “We are NOT going to wash your hair,” he didn’t understand, especially since he was already upset. But now he knows that if the picture of a bathtub on his schedule is replaced with a picture of a kid having his hair washed, it’s Hair Washing Night. That takes out the element of uncertainty, and now he climbs happily into the tub himself.

Every time I add a new system like this, there’s a part of me that thinks “Aren’t you taking this therapy mom geekdom a bit far? Your son is smart and verbal, do you really need a gazillion laminated pictures to communicate with him?”

But the more we use the pictures, the more it’s clear that, yes, we do. His ability, or inability, to understand and process spoken language at a certain speed has nothing to do with how smart he is. He is a picture kind of guy, and I’m learning to embrace that.

Besides. Anything that makes my life feel more organized and manageable right now is very, very, very welcome.

 

*This is from a TV show and is called delayed echolalia.

Note- I use LessonPix.com to make my cards. It’s a great website, user friendly, allows you to use your own photos, and the pictures they provide are nice – definitely recommend.

Pass the acceptance, please

Apparently this Saturday is the beginning of Autism Awareness Month. (It’s also my local library’s spring book sale, but that’s probably not as exciting to you all as it is to me.) Or, better yet, Autism Acceptance Month. Because people are already aware of autism, aren’t they?

People are aware of autism as something so horrible that it’s better to let their child die of measles or be paralyzed by polio than risk the (scientifically dis-proven) vaccine-induced onset of autism. They’re aware of autism as something so horrible that it excuses a parent killing her own child. Does this kind of “awareness” help autistic people function in society, form meaningful relationships, find employment, live rewarding lives?

People are also apparently aware of autism as something that has a particular “look” – hence the often made comments “You (your child) doesn’t look autistic!” (I guess autistic people are supposed to be green??)

Forget about awareness. All it does, as far as I can tell, is make people think they know something when they actually don’t.

You know what I would like? I would like to be able to take my almost-three-year old son anywhere in public and not be glared at, told I shouldn’t be there, or hear muttered unkind comments. I would like to be able to take him to story/craft time at the library and not see him excluded by a particular parent volunteer because she doesn’t understand his behavior.

((Do you know how much it hurts, after a lifetime of being excluded by neurotypical people, to see your son (who is totally sweet and awesome) being excluded before he’s even three years old? It’s easy to say to someone who’s been rejected and excluded by other people, “Well, you’re such a cool person, that’s their loss.” It’s even true, but it’s incomplete. Because when you reject and exclude me, that’s my loss, too. When you reject and exclude my son, that’s his loss. That’s our pain and our anger and our loneliness, every freaking time.))

I shouldn’t have to put a big sign on my kid that says “I have special needs! Be nice!” in order for people to treat him with kindness and respect. Maybe I’m being overly idealistic here, but it would be cool if people could treat him that way just because he’s, you know, a PERSON.

What I want for him is acceptance. Acceptance, understanding, and support. I want people to see his awesome personality AND his differences, his challenges AND his gifts, not one or the other as if they’re incompatible. Because it’s all rolled up in the same human being.

Sorry, being a cruel and hateful person doesn’t make you mentally ill.

Trigger warning: saneism and hate crimes. Also I use the f-word.

There’s a sentiment that I see and hear a lot, often expressed by liberals who have an unjustifiably optimistic view of humanity, that offends me more than any number of slurs against people with mental disorders. This is the idea that “anyone who could do something like that to another person must be mentally ill.”

“Something like that” could be any number of things. Killing someone. Torturing someone. Being racist or fascist. Today’s example (which actually happened several years ago but just came back into the news because a judge in Florida decided it wasn’t actually a crime) is several prison guards locking a black man with schizophrenia in the shower and running near-boiling water on him for hours until he died. I’m not going to provide a link to any of the articles because it’s that disturbing; Google if you want the grisly details.

So I came across this story last night, and because apparently it wasn’t upsetting enough to read about another hate crime against a mentally ill person being dismissed as not worthy of prosecution, I read the comments. And of course there was that person (there’s always at least one) saying, “Who really has the mental illness in this situation?”

To which I respond, THE PERSON WITH FUCKING SCHIZOPHRENIA.

Let’s get something straight. Mental illness is an actual thing. There are specific symptoms that lead to specific diagnoses. There are detectable brain differences that can be studied. Genetics play a role – often a very significant role.

You don’t just get to decide that anyone who displays behavior you don’t like or don’t understand has a psychiatric condition, any more than you get to decide that anyone who takes a long time in a public bathroom has a colostomy bag. I mean they could, but unless you have actual concrete evidence of that, you probably shouldn’t assume it or assert it as a fact to other people.

This includes, by the way, Antisocial Personality Disorder. Many people are in the habit of casually diagnosing everyone with despicable behavior, or anyone who’s an asshole, as having APD (or “psychopathy” as they’re often not educated enough on the matter to know the current diagnostic term). Nope, sorry. Unless someone has actually been diagnosed with APD by a professional, you don’t get to decide that they have it just because you don’t like or understand their behavior.

The assumption that people are fundamentally good and thus all cruelty must be caused by a psychiatric condition is 1) delusional (though not in a technical diagnostic sense) and 2) saneist. It perpetuates stereotypes about mentally ill people being violent horrible human beings while letting all sane people off the hook for their behavior – even when they commit a hate crime against a person with a diagnosed mental illness. It makes “mental illness” itself a slur.

In reality, there are many cruel and hateful tendencies in human nature. These tendencies are not the same as mental illness. Many people with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and the like are very gentle and empathic people. I speak from experience, of which I have plenty because I know a lot of people with these conditions and I am one. While we may have violent outbursts when symptomatic, it’s the exception rather than the rule. It’s not who we are in our day to day lives.

Conversely, there are many people who do NOT have a psychiatric condition, who are bullies in their day to day lives, who are selfish, who like to hurt others or at least aren’t very bothered by it, and who are very susceptible to peer pressure. Did every person who participated in slavery or the Holocaust have an undiagnosed psychiatric condition? Or for that matter, every person in middle school who threw rocks at me or jeered?

I volunteered at downtown shelters. Homeless people with schizophrenia aren’t the ones jumping people, they’re the ones getting jumped. Or boiled to death in showers. It’s usually the person with the mental illness who is bullied and hurt by the normal folks.

But people with psychiatric conditions can also be assholes. We can also be mean, and selfish, and petty, and cruel. Usually this is NOT because of our mental illness. Usually it’s because WE’RE FUCKING HUMAN. Yes, all the nasty stuff you normals do, we crazies can do too. But it’s not because we’re different from you. It’s because we’re the same as you.

Accept it.

Why Johnny Doesn’t Flap: a problematic parody

I came across this book in the children’s section of the library last week. It’s called “Why Johnny Doesn’t Flap: NT is OK!” The authors, Clay and Gail Morton, have a son with autism and are self-described members of the neurodiversity movement.

My first reaction to this book was delight. It’s a pretty clever parody of books that attempt to get neurotypical/abled children to be accepting of those who are different (a worthwhile goal but usually condescending in its execution). It’s refreshing and funny. It takes the point of view of the autistic child, a welcome perspective shift that needs to happen a lot more. Here are a couple snippets so you get the idea:

“Johnny has problems with communication. He will say that a math test was ‘a piece of cake’ when he really means that it was easy.”

“Johnny watches the same television shows that I do, but he never recites the opening credits word for word. In fact, I’m not even sure he has them memorized. He sure picks funny things to focus on, but that’s OK.”

There is also an entertaining “Note for Parents” at the end, which informs the reader that “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 67 in 68 children may be neurotypical.”

Despite my giggling, something niggled at me. I wondered if it would be possible to write a parody that similarly shifted perspective, but took the point of view of an individual who (for example) uses an AAC device to communicate and needs assistance to use the bathroom. I got particularly stuck on this line, when the narrator laments his friend’s lack of interest in hydraulic forklifts:

“He might never be a real expert on anything, but he’s a good person, so that’s OK.”

I thought a lot about why this line bothered me and finally determined that it’s because it attempts to subvert the ableist paradigm while still accepting it. There’s an implication that the autistic character’s value is shown by his expertise in a technical subject. Intelligence justifies his divergent neurology. Where does that leave autistic individuals who are intellectually disabled?

There are definitely connections between various forms of neurodivergence and certain strains of intelligence and creativity. This is part of the beauty of neurodiversity – of the wonderfully intricate, fragile human brain in all its variation. At the same time, these connections do not appear in every individual. Not every person with schizophrenia is a math genius. Not every person with autism is a programmer. Not every person with bipolar disorder is an artist.

The individuals who have divergent neurology without associated gifts are part of the pattern in the human race that produces those gifts, produces science, poetry, etc. But that is not the substance of their worth as human beings. For that matter, it’s not the substance of worth even for people who do have those gifts. It took me a while to learn this, because for a long time I thought that my literary abilities justified my mental illness, that my value as a person depended on how smart or gifted I was to balance out my impairment. Once I realized that that wasn’t true – that I have as much value as the Nobel Prize winning novelist, and also as much value as the homeless man who recites his poems in coffee shops, and as much value as the nonverbal intellectually disabled woman who’s never written anything at all, because each of them has the same damn value – I was able to enjoy writing for the first time in years.

But back to the book. I was curious what exactly the authors’ take on neurodiversity was, so I googled and found this interview , in which they are quoted as saying: “Why do people with high-functioning autism have a disorder while non-autistic people are ‘normal?'”

Note the deliberate exclusion of “low-functioning” autistic individuals from arguable “normalcy”.

In my opinion, this is the major issue that the neurodiversity movement needs to tackle right now. There are advocates who say “The neurodiversity paradigm is for everyone, no matter how affected and impaired; it’s for those on disability benefits, it’s for those with aides, it’s for those who communicate by nonverbal means”; and there are others like Clay and Gail Morton who say, “Neurodiversity means that mildly affected individuals should be fully accepted because they don’t really have a disorder.” Those are very, very, VERY different stances.

I have major problems with the second approach. It’s actually deeply ableist (I explained why in this post). It’s exclusionary. It’s also, I think, a teensy bit delusional. (If you really can’t figure out what you have in common with those “low functioning” autistic people, then maybe stop describing yourself as autistic?)

A neurodiversity movement that excludes those who are most impaired by their neurology is just another form of elitist garbage, and I don’t have time for that.

The neurodiversity movement that I embrace, that I want to be reshaped by, that I want to tell others about, is expressed by autistic activists like Amy Sequenzia (who is nonspeaking) and Lydia Brown. Instead of seeking inclusion as neurodivergent people within the dominant, able-bodied, neurotypical paradigm, they simply reject it. They refuse to be defined by it. Anything less than that, no matter how clever or well intentioned it may be, falls short.

Saneism and gun control

Possible triggers: This post discusses gun violence, psychosis, and stigma/slurs against people with psychiatric conditions.

If you’re trying to keep up with the sewage that’s been spraying out of the white house lately, you might have heard that House Republicans repealed legislation that prohibits some people with some kind of mental disorders from owning guns.

I am not sure of the details of this law, mainly because I was too upset by the tenor of the articles about it to read them very thoroughly. Thus I have no particular opinion on this law or its repeal. (My thoughts on gun control are complicated; I believe guns need to be better regulated, but that the regulating should be done by a non-government body accountable to local communities. Having the government solely responsible for regulating guns might be fine until your government becomes a totalitarian entity and then it should be somewhat obvious why that’s a bad idea.)

What I do have an opinion about is the comments I read on these articles. Mind you, these were on “liberal/progressive” web pages, not Breitbart. The comments included such slurs as “mental case,” “nut case,” “mental idiots,” “deranged,” and “homicidal psychopaths,” casually thrown about with absolutely no recognition that these terms were referring to actual human beings with diverse personalities and rights and feelings. They insinuated that all people with mental illnesses of any kind are incompetent to have guns, and that all Republican lawmakers are mentally ill. Because, you know, all people with mental disorders are potential criminals, and being a greedy jerk who lacks empathy can only be explained by mental illness.

Then there are the comments on the recent mosque shooting, claiming that Alexandre Bissonette is mentally ill.┬áThis of course happens every time a mass shooting is committed by a white person. I have already seen specific claims that he must have been psychotic. As far as I know, he has no psychiatric history or diagnosis. The only justification for claiming he is mentally ill is that he is a white American male (i.e. someone the commenters identify with) who did something with motivations they don’t understand. I’ve actually seen the claim made – many times – that anyone who shoots another person must be mentally ill.

OK. A few facts. (I will not post links to my sources because they include disturbing details that might trigger some readers, but my sources are all from PubMed and you should be able to find them easily with a search.)

– An estimated 5-10% of gun violence and homicides are committed by people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or psychotic depression. Put another way, 90-95% of gun violence and homicides are committed by people who are not pyschotic – i.e. by sane people.

– Of violence commited by people with these conditions, the vast majority are committed against relatives and friends. (Not strangers in public places.) Usually, the person who is psychotic believes that they are either acting in self-defense or are helping/saving/protecting the victim.

– People with these conditions are MUCH more likely to commit suicide than homicide.

– People with these conditions are MUCH more likely to be victimized by sane people or shot by the police than to commit violence against others.

If somebody does not have a diagnosed psychiatric condition such as schizophrenia, then DO NOT make that claim. DO NOT even speculate about it. It confuses people, and it contributes to stigma against the vast majority of people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and psychotic depression who are far more likely to be victims of violence, or to use violence against themselves, than to inflict it on others.