Unstrange Mind

Autistic Author, Artist, Advocate, and Speaker

Who Do I Work For?

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[image description: a photograph of the author at the grave of F. Scott Fitzgerald, post-processing by the app Prisma. Copyright 2017, Sparrow R. Jones]


This week I shared a lovely essay written by Misandry Angie, singing the praises of her wonderful Autistic child: The Best Kid. (It’s not long. I’ll wait here for you if you want to go read it right now and then come back.)

A reader responded that it was a great essay, except for the last two sentences.  If you didn’t go read it, I’ll share those two sentences with you now. In fact, wait.  I don’t want you to get those two sentences out of context. The sentences say “their” twice but without the sentence preceding them, you will have no idea who “they” are. So let me share the last *three* sentences with you:

I can’t sympathize with parents who are disappointed with their baby, who want to change their children with compliance training and bleach enemas, who want to crush their baby’s spirit. I can’t consider their feelings. I’m too worried for their babies.

I was understandably surprised that someone would criticize those last two sentences, so I asked the Critic if they would like to explain further. We had a cautious and uncomfortable conversation about connecting with others that gradually became more and more ‘spiritual’ on their part as it went along.  I was growing more and more frustrated because not only was the Critic dismissing my concerns but they came across as ‘holier-than-thou’ and seemed to be shaming anyone who would care more about Autistic children than about the parents who abuse and kill them for being Autistic.

When another Autistic adult joined the discussion and politely asked the Critic if they were Autistic, the Critic grew more slippery and refused to answer the question, instead choosing to spread the judgment even thicker.  Some more Autistic adults began speaking up and the original Critic deleted their comments altogether, removing the entire conversation from my page.

My short answer to what happened: if you have to tell us all how enlightened you are, you aren’t.

But you know me. Rarely do I stop with the short answer.

My conversations with close friends who had also witnessed or participated in the experience centered around who I am working for and why. The Critic highlighted important aspects of my mission and another excellent essay by Melody, Let’s Define Autistic Safe Space, drove those thoughts home after the party.

While I can’t promise that this blog, my facebook community, or my Patreon feed will be Autistic Safe Spaces, because anyone could get in and cause a lot of damage before I had a chance to remove them from the party, I can promise that keeping these online spaces safe for Autistics is the Prime Directive here.

But even though my most important readers are Autistics, my most important audience is non-autistic parents of Autistic children and adults.  This might make it seem a little confusing if one takes a casual glance to try to understand who I am working for.

I am speaking to non-autistic parents.

I am working for their children.

This is why I am on Misandry Angie’s side and chose to defend her words.  No, I’m really not here to consider the feelings of those who would try to bleach the autism out of their children. And I felt very protective of my Autistic readers during my discussion with the Critic.  I think people who are not autistic might not really understand how painful it is for us when someone sides with abusive and murdering parents. The reason that non-autistic parents of Autistic children telling us not to judge those who murder their children until we “walk in their shoes”  has become such a cliche that a popular blogger wrote a powerful piece based on that phrase, Here, Try on Some of My Shoes, is because we hear it all the time, every time another child is killed.

We hear it all the time. We hear that we should reach out to those parents (we have) and connect with them (when we do, they hurt us) and not judge them (for murdering their own children??) and understand that they are human beings (when they are not treating us or people like as as human beings).

I knew that the Critic’s attempt to shame me and Misandry Angie and anyone who agreed with the idea of being too concerned about the injured and dying children to worry about how their abusers and murderers feel … those attempts to judge and shame us were going to hurt Autistic people.

So, you may ask, why didn’t I just give the Critic a giant F you from the start?

There are a few reasons.

  1. I am trying to reach parents. The only way I can help Autistic children is to talk to their parents. Minor children are “owned”  by their parents according to the laws, culture, and morals of our society and if I do not keep the channels of communication as open as I possibly can, there is no way I can help their children.  Well, there is a way: I could lobby the government to take their children away.  But until a parent poisons or strikes their child, we have no way of knowing who is dangerous and who is just scared and looking for answers. So long as the parents aren’t harming them, children belong with their parents.  To try to remove children because a parent might harm the child is to punish thoughtcrime.  Ethically, the only way I can try to save the children is to talk to their parents and those conversations will end very quickly after I offer a giant F you.
  2. Until the Critic started judging and shaming, I had no sign that they would not be reachable.  Surely every reasonable and compassionate person could understand why someone might write that they didn’t care about the feelings of child killers because they were too busy worrying about those children? Maybe the Critic just hadn’t thought about things from the perspective of the children or the adults that earlier children had grown up to be? I had to give the Critic a chance to listen to the vulnerable side of the equation before just writing them off with a hearty F you.
  3. I actually am trying to live my life by the ethics the Critic was claiming to hold.

What?

Yes.

The Critic was insisting that we have to be open to everyone and connect with everyone.  Even in the face of being told that the idea of Autistic adults being open to emotional connection with parents who abuse and murder their Autistic children was a very painful idea to push on us, the Critic continued pushing that idea and increasing the level of shaming directed at those who were too narrow-minded or unenlightened to want to be open to and connect with everyone.

I am no better than the Critic.

I am writing this post that shames the Critic for shaming us.

But I am not a perfect bodhisattva. I am not a saint.

The bodhisattva oath is a prayer that millions of Buddhists, including the Dalai Lama, repeat every day. There are different versions of it.  This is the one Jack Kornfield shares in his book, Bringing Home the Dharma: Awakening Right Where You Are, an English translation of the one the Dalai Lama recites:

May I be a guard for those who need protection
A guide for those on the path
A boat, a raft, a bridge for those who wish to cross the flood
May I be a lamp in the darkness
A resting place for the weary
A healing medicine for all who are sick
A vase of plenty, a tree of miracles
And for the boundless multitudes of living beings
May I bring sustenance and awakening
Enduring like the earth and sky
Until all beings are freed from sorrow
And all are awakened.

I have embraced this ethic as well.

But I am not perfect.

And when I am trying to guard those who need protection, guide those who seek direction, bridge the gap between people, offer what meager rest and healing I might have….

And when there is conflict between those two….

I must choose the more vulnerable. I must side with the underdog.  I am working for Autistics. Even more, I am working for Autistic children.

I offer a listening ear and hope to be inspired to share a healing word.  I seek to be a boat, a raft, a bridge for those non-autistic parents who are ready to do the work of letting love cast out fear and acceptance crowd out abuse.

But whenever a line is drawn in the sand — as happened earlier this week when the Critic insisted that the right thing to do is to care about the feelings of murderers — I am a very poor bodhisattva because I will step onto one side of that line.  I will protect the vulnerable.

I am here to work *with* non-autistic parents of Autistic children.

I am working *for* Autistics.

3 Comments

  1. There is a saying in dog training: “Never reward bad behavior.” The same idea applies to children, and particularly, adults. If an adult behaves badly, validating their feelings is the wrong thing to do. Their bad behavior needs to be addressed directly, especially if that behavior hurts others. Some people feel no shame, so there is no point in trying to shame them. Just address the effect the behavior has on the victims, and if their feelings get hurt, too F*in’ bad… “As ye sow, so shall ye reap,” or something like that. Actions have consequences.

    • unstrangemind

      January 9, 2017 at 5:26 pm

      I don’t think it’s the best idea to approach human beings as if they were dogs to be trained out of their undesirable behaviors.

      If an adult (or a child) “behaves badly” it’s because of some underlying need that is not being met. In some cases, the best thing for me to do is remove myself from the adult who is engaging in behavior that is harmful or very unpleasant to me, but I don’t do that from a behaviorist perspective of “extinguishing the behavior” by “refusing to reward it.”

      If it is at all possible to do so safely, “rewarding bad behavior” is *exactly* what I try to do … but I don’t think of it in such dehumanizing terms at all.

      I try to see where they are coming from. What fear is fueling their words and actions? I try, as much as possible, to approach the underlying source of the difficult behavior, doing my best to help the other person feel heard and acknowledged. If it is not dangerous for me to do so, I try to help them process the source of their words and actions rather than keeping things on the surface with only their words and actions.

      (Behaviorism does not believe in going to the source of the discomfort but rather just treating words and actions as the only thing that exists — to be rewarded or extinguished, based on the judgment of the person who has set themselves in a position of superiority with respect to the “badly behaved” person.)

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