Monday, July 29, 2013

Don't assume

Dear neurotypical (or, "normal") person speaking of special needs,

There seems to be a lingering misconception outside the special needs bubble, meaning that world out there which has nothing to do with special needs, that says it's to to stick your foot in your mouth when asking or talking about special needs. I know I'm probably flogging a dying, but not dead, horse here, but some things still need to be said. Because what I would assume would be common sense isn't. I guess that saying about assuming is very true.

If the person you are talking to about special needs is a parent, tread very carefully. We are a pretty defensive bunch due to the slurs which have been thrown at our children since the delays were first noticed, or even birth if we're discussing a chromosomal issue. Saying things such as "but he looks normal" or "but he seems so happy!" don't really help your situation. Yes, my child is happy. Yes, he does look "normal." However, you come off as a dumb ass when those are your qualifiers as "but he doesn't look like he's ----." Asking intelligent questions does help.

Thinking that people like my child are in an unfortunate circumstance due to their neurology is ignorant, plain and simple. That is assuming quite a bit. You don't know their life just as I don't yours. Don't judge and please, don't let those words flow out of your mouth before you've had a chance to check them. If you have to ask me if your question is offensive, it probably is, so don't ask it. Find another way. Most of us don't mind educating people about our loved ones or referring you to those who are grown and living what is considered fulfilling lives.

Don't apologize to someone for their neurology or to a parent for their child's neurology or physical condition. Not sure when it's okay to apologize? Then don't. My friend Courtney wrote a great piece about this. The very short of it is this: "conditions" like autism (I'm speaking of this because this is what I know.) aren't a walk in the park for anyone involved, least of all my son. Apologizing to me for him being born this way is going to make me want to set you on fire. Oh, and hugging me? No. Just, no.

Let's just drop that little word, "normal," now shall we? Normal is a setting on the clothes dryer, not a brain. No matter how "normal" a person might think their life is, I'm willing to bet if you scratched the surface you'd find something "abnormal" (another word which is pretty wrong to use when describing someone).

If you think that it's okay to use actual slurs based on perceived notions of intellectual ability, you're wrong. Those words are nothing short of hate speech.

Don't ever assume because I'm the parent of an autistic child that I might be a lesser individual than you. To the same extreme, don't think that I'm some sort of superhero. I'm a mom, plain and simple.

If the person you're speaking to, like my son, has special needs, don't speak slowly. Assume that the person has the same level of competence you do, even if you know you aren't smart. To not assume competence, that is, intelligence, is to automatically degrade that individual and put them on the level of an inanimate object. I cannot scream this enough: only ever assume competence, nothing else.

Don't pity my son. Ever. Hell to the no.

Know that if you are pigeonholing people like my son as "less than," then they (and their parents, friends and assorted spectators) are pigeonholing you as someone with little more than basic thought skills. You are now a nonperson in all of our eyes. Honey, ignorance can be fixed, stupidity cannot. I don't do stupid.

If you get anything out of any of this, good. If you didn't, then I'm sorry. I guess I assumed too much competence on your part.


Mom to Morgan, a beautiful autistic boy

To the people with special needs and parents of people with special needs reading this, what would you add?

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