Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Disability Is Not Your Get Out of Jail Free Card

(This is my first post for Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD).  Also known as "this will be my BADD post if I wake up tomorrow and don't have the spoons to write the one I plan to write.)

There's a post that popped up today from a fairly well-known "autism parent" that talks about closed groups on Facebook where autism parents can talk about their reality, also known as "how awful their lives are".  I'll let said parent do the talking:

"This is a group that lives with “severe” or “extreme” challenges; aggression, self-injurious behavior, intensive behavioral challenges. Their lives are almost unmanageable. Their children (including adult children) require so much care, that these families struggle to make it through each day."

Said parent then proceeds to quote members of the group who say that they have wanted to kill their children, how difficult it is for them, etc. etc.

All throughout the comments parents applaud, saying this post was needed, saying that they, too, deal with these challenges, they, too, have wanted to kill their children.  They say that better services are needed and that they would do anything for a cure.  They mistakenly assume that autism acceptance means that autistic advocates and allies all think autism is a blessing, all rainbows and sunshine.

Autism isn't a blessing.  Neither is any other disability.  My disabilities are not blessings, nor burdens.  They just are.

I grew up around several people who were "severely" autistic.  I saw what they and their families went through.  I'm still seeing it.  I'm not oblivious to the very real struggles that disability can bring.  I go through them myself.  But that does not, and will never, justify hurting your children, or worse.

What is it about autism (and other disabilities) that serve as a metaphorical "get out of jail free" card?  When parents shake their babies to get them to stop crying, we (rightly so) protest and demand that these parents serve appropriate jail time.  When parents of autistic children abuse their children, we apparently demand sympathy and compassion for abusers and murderers.  Don't believe me?  Take a look.

This is a comment from an article about a man on trial for murder after shaking his baby daughter:

[Text reads:  "Hang him - but first shake him half to death!!!  What a smiling face he has so satisfied with what he did!  He makes me sick!!!]

And this is a comment from an article about Kelli Stapleton, who tried to kill both herself and her autistic daughter back in December.

[Text reads:  "People shouldn't judge this woman unless you've been in her shoes. Anyone who has dealt with a family member who has the same level of mental/emotional issues as this daughter can understand how the day-in/day-out stress simply wears you down. And there is no recourse in our systems for taking care of these people, the social safety nets have all been eliminated in cost-savings. It's a mess."]

See the difference?  It astounds me.

There is no denying that we need better services.  We need insurance coverage for AAC equipment, for programs that actually help disabled people, for personal care assistants.  We need programs that cater to disabled people's strengths, while helping them through their weaknesses.  We need sensory rooms galore.  We need an education system that's flexible and doesn't focus on meaningless test scores.  We need programs and schools and activities that are actually inclusive and welcoming toward people with disabilities.  We need treatments - not cures - that will help disabled people manage the aspects of their disabilities that do cause suffering or otherwise interfere with living a full and happy life.  Those are the kind of services we need and I am the first to say that the amount of services we have right now is sadly lacking.

But the need for better services does not, and will never justify wanting to hurt your child.  Wanting to kill your child.

Services and cures - they're two separate issues, they're completely unrelated.  Don't force them together.  Treatment is not cure, and some people may seek treatment voluntarily to better their lives.  That's okay. But when you're forcing treatment onto a child or someone can't communicate enough to consent, that's a problem.  Especially when that "treatment" is dangerous and done in the name of "normalizing" your child.

I'm tired of hearing about murders or potential murders.  I'm tired of murders being justified.  I'm so, so tired.  Please, make it stop.  My life is not your tragedy and neither are the lives of my friends - "high" functioning, "low" functioning, whatever.  Is it so damned impossible to comprehend that we might be happy with our lives?

I am happy.  We need more services.  It is not okay to hurt your children.  There are aspects of disability that interfere with living a full life.  We need acceptance.  These statements are not mutually exclusive.  Stop acting like they are.

Disability should not obstruct justice.  Disability is not your get of jail free card.  Period.


Anonymous said...


Unknown said...

Agree 100%.

The Goldfish said...

I think the term the young people use is "Word".

AZ Chapman said...

Great post

DavidG said...

This, so much this!

Ettina said...

Actually, as a psych major, I kind of come down on the opposite side. I have sympathy for people who shake babies, or murder nondisabled children, for the exact same reasons I have sympathy for people who abuse or kill disabled children. Because I understand the psychological problems that lead to this behavior, and that doing stuff like this is generally not a free choice. The more I look at why people do horrific acts, the more I see that there's little room for the action of free choice.

For example, most abusers were abused themselves. When faced with this statistic, many people reply 'yes, but there are hundreds of people who were abused and never abuse others'. Which is certainly true. (I'm one of them, as are my parents.) But if you look at what differs between abused-turned-abusers and other abused individuals, a lot of it has nothing to do with their choices. There is an X-linked gene, MAOA, that has no impact on behavior in non-abused people, but greatly increases the risk of violence in abuse survivors. There is how skilled a manipulator the abuser was, and whether he (or she) built a positive emotional bond with the victim in among the abuse. There is whether they had any healthy adult involved in their life consistently from the ages 1-5, or if they spent those years attaching only to an abuser or to no one.

Similarly, there are many factors that lead a parent to harm a disabled child that have nothing to do with that parent's choices. And for that reason, I have sympathy for them. But just because you're sick and pitiable and can't help hurting someone doesn't mean we should just let you do it. Society needs to step in, to remove custody from parents who threaten their disabled kids and to offer help to those on the verge, and we should never glorify the people who we've failed. (Just like with school shootings - positive publicity leads vulnerable people to imitate it.) I see their situation as no different from that of an Metis mother who wants to kill her children so they don't have to deal with racism. (Maria Campbell almost did this, she describes it in her book Half-Breed.)