Katherine Berry of Villainous Kate fame wrote a thoughtful article for Pajamas Media about Autism being the new protected class:
But Savage chose to stand by his comments, explaining in a New York Times interview:
“My main point remains true,” Mr. Savage, whose radio audience ranks in size behind only those of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, said in the interview. “It is an overdiagnosed medical condition. In my readings, there is no definitive medical diagnosis for autism.”
While there’s no denying that Savage’s initial remarks were cruel and ignorant, this situation has made one thing perfectly clear: autism is big news. It’s the latest celebrity cause. It’s the new chipotle, the disorder du jour, and now it’s a plot line on NBC’s “Days of Our Lives.”
And when it comes to protecting autistic children from discrimination, everything else takes a backseat.
She continues, by citing the situation of a child melting down on a plane and the resulting actions of the stewardess and pilot:
Consider, for instance, an incident last month involving a mother and her 2-year-old autistic child who were escorted off of an American Airlines flight after airline personnel declared the boy’s behavior “uncontrollable.” According to the airline, the child’s behavior simply compounded an unsafe situation stemming from the mother’s refusal to place her carry-on bag in the overhead compartment and the boy’s inability to remain in his seat.
Naturally, the mother’s story differs. In her telling it all comes down to the airline not understanding that, due to autism, the child had special needs to which the airline should have been more sensitive.
She claims, for instance, that the attendant repeatedly came by to tighten the child’s seatbelt because, in the mother’s own words, the child “was wiggling around and trying to get out of his seatbelt.” When the attendant reached over to tighten the child’s seatbelt again, the mother says she warned that the action would exacerbate her son’s autistic behavior. The child once again got out of his seat.
While the pilot and the airline are being pummeled on blogs for their “cruelty” — and at the risk of sounding insensitive myself — I can’t help wonder when “special needs” became synonymous with disregarding the needs of others, or when the parent of a child with special needs was accorded special needs of their own.
As I’ve shared before, I have an autistic son. And, as it turns out, I had a very similar travel situation, except that it turned out differently. Here’s what happened: My husband, just-turned-three year old autistic son and baby daughter were taking our first plane trip to a family reunion. My son hadn’t traveled on a plane before. His personality was docile, non-aggressive and he rarely melted down, but we were still nervous. It was new. Autistic children don’t do “new” well. So, we get on, the door closes and the engine starts, so the pressure changes. Now, a typical child often melts down at this point. The pressure changes hurt delicate ears which is why all people inwardly groan when they’re seated in a child’s proximity. Well, my son started screaming…in pain. He tore out of my arms, started running for the plane door, and started tearing at it trying to escape. He was obviously suffering. The other passengers were as horrified as we were. It was obvious that he wasn’t throwing a fit or being rebellious, he was anguished. I ran after him, scooped him up, and looked at my son in despair. We weren’t sure how it would go, should we ask them to return to the gate? It was horrible.
I held him close as he sobbed and screamed. The stewardess came by but did not force me to put him into a seat. She could have. Instead, she came over and asked what could be done. I said, nothing, I’ll just hold him and I did. I essentially nearly had my biceps ripped out holding him close so he couldn’t escape. He sobbed himself to sleep and was a zombie the entire family reunion visit. He had retreated into some remote place. I was deeply distressed about forcing him through the return flight. The return trip was a bit better, but he sat in my lap again.
We didn’t take him on a plane trip again for years. And when we decided to try again, we were very worried. And he cried and shook and leaned into us, but he was okay, he stayed buckled in his seat, and by this time we could explain what was happening. He still grabs his sister’s hand on plane trips, but he can do it.
I’ve already said that Michael Savage is a moron about autism. But society at large isn’t much better educated. Here’s the problem: Autistic children look “normal”. If they had some sort of physical deformity, I think people could handle accommodating them better. For all the talk of a child-centric society, children in general are not cut much slack. Special needs children who look like typical kids get the same treatment.
Now, I’ve seen the dopey parents with undisciplined children running amok in restaurants and stores. And even disciplined children have bad days. Each of my children chose to throw a public fit–once. But it happened in places like Target and Dillards and they were public and the impression could definitely be that I have unruly children. When I say it happened once, it’s because it was a learning experience. It didn’t happen again.
For my autistic son, it has never been about discipline. His melt-downs were always stimulus response cycles. They were unpredictable and still, we did everything we could to predict them. We also severely limited our lives. For the first four years of his life, we simply didn’t go anywhere or do much of anything. The plane trip was a big risk, it back-fired and we retreated. Very often, the parents of autistic children who do venture forth, do so with trepidation.
Autism is constant, unrelenting work. The diagnosis often takes forever to get. The treatments vary in success and aren’t paid for by insurance. It strains relationships. The child may or may not make progress even after investing significant resources. They don’t potty train. It takes years and years if they do. They self-stimulate to deal with pain or discomfort or whatever it is that’s bothering them. Parents are told by ignorant pediatricians that the child will “grow out of it” or is just delayed when early interventions are key to development and outcomes.
Down here, in Texas, many churches are starting to do outreach for parents because government resources are non-existent. So, there are “date nights” sponsored by the “Special Needs” ministry. Parents also worry non-stop about leaving their child with anyone else for a variety of reasons. First, the child might react unpredictably. Second, the child cannot communicate. Do this search: autistic child + assault. You’ll get the few, bizarre cases of the child assaulting someone. More likely, you’ll get horrifying cases of the autistic child being assaulted. Why? They are the perfect victims; they can’t speak.
So while I have sympathy for the argument that autistic children are the latest faddish protected class, I have to chuckle. Please. The lives of most families with an autistic child are unrelenting hell. If families do attempt to engage the world–which eating, wearing clothes, going to church, and working tend to force, other people will have to deal with the uncomfortable feelings they have when they see a child acting “weird”.
As for the safety of others: that is why early intervention is so important. These children and their parents, need help when the child is small. A 6’0″, 200 pound emotional child is dangerous, indeed. I understand a church putting on a restraining order because the son is aggressive, but I understand, too, a mother’s desire to get spiritual sustenance after years of raising this child. The church could spend it’s resources, not on a lawyer, but on special care so the mom could get a break on the weekends. How about that? Churches are in the business of tending the weak, are they not?
It is easy, from the outside, to judge these families. In addition to receiving a bleak diagnosis, parents have to fend with discipline advice, harsh condemnation and isolation. Also, and I saw this over and over at the conferences I attended, overwhelmingly, mothers deal with the child because the parents separated–often because the father had been undiagnosed but was on the spectrum somewhere himself and he either could not or would not help. (I met one father in this position.) These single parents must be highly commended. Working to survive, in addition to caring for these children is a monumental task.
The safety of everyone, autistic or not, is paramount. First, do no harm. After that, though, what should be done? Right now, parents soldier on alone, but these children, all grown up, will be society’s problem. Parents lament about their child’s care after they die. What will be done? I shudder to think of these children, the perfect victims, being housed in institutions with the mentally ill abusers. It already happens in early intervention: “at risk” children (code for the emotionally damaged aggressive, future-bullies-of-America, eventual prison inmates) are placed in the same classroom with children on the Autism spectrum.
Prison or institutions is where the one group ends up. Parents care for the other group, but they eventually need help. For as loud as the Autism awareness folks screech, it doesn’t really seem like anyone is listening.
To me, the solution isn’t a government program or huge institutions, but tax cuts so parents can choose educational resources and places for their children. Let the free market decide this. There is no question parents need help, let them have their tax dollars so they can find a solution.
Oh, and as I said before, it’s a free country, Savage can say what he wants, but on this, he’s wrong.