Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Another day, another person to educate (aka the Smockity fracas)

The autism blogosphere has been abuzz for weeks about Smockity's recent post, in which she and her regular readers make fun of an obviously-autistic four-year-old and her grandmother.  Smockity tells what she thinks is a humorous anecdote about a trip to the library with five of her seven children and how proud of herself she was that she had showed such great self-restraint in not scolding the grandmother for not controlling the hand-flapping, toe-walking, strangely-talking little girl:
After 15-20 minutes of browsing and some reading aloud, a couple of my little girls wandered over to the only two available computers and started working on some letter recognition and counting games. They hadn’t been on for more than a couple of minutes when a little girl, about 4 years old, bounded into the library with her grandmother. She never stopped to look at any books, but headed straight for the occupied computers.

She bounced on her tippy toes and flapped her hands up and down and said breathlessly, “It will be my turn next!  I’m waiting patiently, Grandma!”
At this point, it's obvious to an informed reader (like you or me) that this child has autism.  The flapping, the toe-walking, the single-mindedness - it's textbook.  Our writer, Smockity, has not read the textbook.

Grandma replied, “Yes, Sugarplum Sweetiepie, It will be your turn in just a minute.” ...

The girl never left her position at the computers and continued bouncing, flapping, and proclaiming, “I’m waiting patiently! It’s almost my turn! I’m being patient, Grandma!” to which Grandma would reply, “That’s right, Preciousdarling Angelface, You are being very patient. Just one more minute.”
This was repeated… repeatedly.
The informed reader sees here that the child has been working on "patience" in therapy, and that she is taking some pride in her level of mastery of this emerging skill.  The grandmother is reinforcing the goals of therapy by praising her for not having a meltdown, for using her words, for not shoving the other girls away from the computers.  Smockity, the uninformed writer, sees none of this.  She does not see the hours of training that have gone into this awkward semblance of patience - she just sees a loud little girl exhibiting weird behavior.
I continued to turn the pages in my Bible and pretend I had no idea of all the “patience” being practiced just a few feet from me.
I'm going to try to ignore the holier-than-thou use of the Bible reference in this story.  I've found that the more people talk about the Bible, the less they seem to behave as if they had read it and absorbed its lessons. But I'm trying really really hard not to judge here.

“I’m waiting patiently! (more flapping) I’m being patient, Grandma!” “You sure are, Babydoll Sugarcookie! I am proud of how patient you are!”

I silently wondered what impatient would look like to Grandma and turned another page. “Not my child, not my business.”

About this time I saw the girl tap one of my girls on the shoulder and say, “It’s my turn! It’s my turn!”
As the mother of a kid with autism, I'm very proud of this little girl.  Even though it wasn't actually her turn, she chose to use a socially-appropriate means of interacting with the girls at the computer to try to get what she wanted.  Smockity does not see things as I do.  She continues:

My girl gave me a puzzled look, since she was still in the middle of her first game. I pretended not to notice, looking down at my Bible, and waited to see what would transpire.

My girl simply said, “I’m not finished,” and turned back to her unfinished game.

The flapping intensified until I thought we all might witness the first recorded occurence of self propelled human flight. There was much more loud talk of “patience” and at this point I seriously considered jabbing a ball point pen into my eyeball to distract me from the temptation to address the situation in a less than patient manner....
This is the silent intolerance that all spectrum parents fear exists.  When Ryan stims in public, I always fear the others moms around are judging us - my son, my parenting abilities.  Before reading Smockity's post, I tried to convince myself that I was just letting my famous paranoia get the better of me; now, I'm not so confident about that. 

Anyway, on to the most disgusting part of our tale:
If I hadn’t been taught not to sass my elders, I very well might have said, “Ma’am, your little Kissylips Fairyface is actually not being the least little bit patient. In fact, if you had a big mixing bowl and added 1 cup of overindulged, 1 cup of coddled, 1 cup of impatient, and a handful of annoying, stirred it up, rolled it out, and put it in a pan, your little Honeybun Adora-belle would be the tasty nugget that popped right out of the pan, and you are doing her a huge disservice in teaching her that what is not at all patient is what you call “patience”....

Thus concludes the story of “What Happens When Coddled Little Girls Are Over Praised For False Virtues”.

The reader comments that follow the story continue the merciless teasing and judging of the girl and grandmother - until various autism bloggers step in to point out that this is not a typical child, and that perhaps a bit of sensitivity is in order.  Smockity first responded defensively, then offered a genuine apology (though she was mostly apologizing for bringing dishonor to the name of Christ.)

There are many take-aways from this tale:

1) It's not paranoia when they're actually out to get you.  There are lots of ignorant adults out there, raising ignorant children to silently judge kids like mine.  One of the goals of this blog is to help chip away at this pervasive ignorance about autism and individuals on the spectrum.  I'm glad you're reading this!  If you learn something here, please share it with your friends.

2) Talking back to ignorance can make a difference, one person at a time.  If the autism community had not jumped on Smockity's comment page and taught her and her regular readers some Diversity 101, they would have all gone on thinking that their self-righteous judgment was acceptable.  The dialogue that was born of this hateful blog post may have helped change the way some adults think of others.  It may even prompt some individuals to consider the invisible back story to the dramas they see playing out in public, rather than assuming they already know what they are looking at.

3) There's a lot more work to be done.  With the number of autism diagnoses on the rise, every child today will eventually have some sort of interaction with a peer on the spectrum, whether he knows it's happening at the time or not.  It is therefore the job of all parents to talk to their children about disabilities, about tolerance, about inclusion, and about the hair dryer-brains in our toaster-brained world.

1 comment:

  1. I truly love our blogs. My prenatal yoga teacher works with young kids with numerous different challenges and she mentioned in class that she had attended a conference on autism here a few weeks ago. I sent her the link to your blog.


Keep it civil, people.