I am not really sure how to start this post, in part because I feel like saying anything would be a risk. A risk to my on going well being, a risk to my security in housing, in healthcare, in access to the basics. But I think that that fear is just a symptom of what I’m talking about.
Last March, my placement on SSI was approved by a judge. I think my lawyer was a good one, even though he was the sort of man who terrifies me because his demeanor triggers some unpleasant memories. The judge didn’t even ask me to come into the courtroom- he decided based on my paperwork to offer me a deal which included me having a payee, which is actually something that is preferable to me because of the sort of things I have difficulties with. The waiting room was tense, and there was plenty of papers to sign, but in the end it turned out alright. My mother and I went to the sushi place across from the courthouse there in Wexford, and I had avacado and cucumber sushi.
The problem lies in what it took to get to that point. You see, the entire process involved looking at everything I can do, and find the limits, the deficits, and the flaws. Highlighting the things that I can’t do, and expounding rather than ignoring or accommodating for how they touch every single aspect of my life. There is nothing that was allowed to be “good”- not even something relatively meaningless like my IQ, which the lawyer was displeased with.
My lawyer was very thorough with his prep. Really, that is part of why he’s a great lawyer for this sort of law. He knows what they are looking for, and he is forthright. It’s a difficult process, even with the assistance in figuring out the paperwork and who to talk to to get the evidence that is asked for and so on. It is hard work, draining and demoralizing, even with the support I had.
Part of the prep work involves the lawyer working with you to help you communicate how thoroughly your disability impacts your life. I had been brought up by a mother who tried to emphasize strengths based approaches, ones that could limit some of the trauma that society can cause when your brain or body doesn’t work within the range that the average person does. This process was the opposite. My strengths were to be minimized, the limits that my disabilities put on them emphasized. Uplifting language was considered not appropriate, as it was said to disguise the impact that my struggles have.
That I believe in and on my good days fight for disability rights was even considered a hindrance My lawyer told me he hates activist/advocate clients, and only because we have harder cases to make. The language and work that keeps us from despair, that gives us some hope that some day life will not be as much of an up hill battle, that says that we should and someday will be seen as equal- all of this was something that is looked down on and despised. The fact that we want to and can envision the sort of world where the supports and environments we need to not have to go through the SSI/SSDI process in order to survive is too uplifting, too insightful for us to need and “deserve” anything in the right now. The fact that it is just a hope that is still being worked toward, that that world where those supports exist isn’t here fully yet, is irrelevant when it is something we believe in.
The preparation process also involved undermining a lot of the work I had done to allow myself to get by in my day to day life with a limited number of meltdowns and panic attacks. I still deal daily with memories of the things that were said to me by my step father and some of the providers when I was young. I have many little things that will trigger the memories, that will make me slip into the words that were said. Before going through this process, I had a few things that I would repeat to myself to counter them- it didn’t make them go away, but it made it so that I was left with shorter periods of distress, or delayed reactions. But part of the process was to emphasize the counter arguments- that is, to repeat in a not as cruel way the things that caused me trauma in the first place about myself. To emphasize incompetence the futility of the things I have achieved and the impossibility of success at the things that I wanted. To demonstrate less than.
I find myself, now, more incapacitated by these things than I have in years.
Throughout, I’ve clung to my advocacy and activism around disability. I’ve felt like a hypocrite, or like I was-had to be- doing it for someone else, because what was being re-taught to me was so against it all. But I’ve also felt like I was surviving, that this work was like some sort of safety line. I don’t know how well or if I would have survived it without.
Perhaps the level of struggle I’m having has to do with the nature of some of my disabilities. That perhaps the anxiety disorder processes and the tendency toward fixation from being autistic are what they call a perfect storm, moving towards a cataclysmic failure when they interact with a system that encourages devaluing. The part of me that thinks this reflects about the way that some of my friends don’t seem as traumatized as I feel from their time going through this. I know that in some cases this isn’t true- it’s just not something they want to or can discuss. I know trauma is like that, from both personal experience and from the writings of others. And yes, perhaps some really weren’t traumatized by the process, left struggling inside more while their supports and safety outside are stronger.
But as much as the part of my brain where the fear lives fixates on that, the part where logic lives knows that it’s irrelevant. No one should be coming out of this process struggling emotionally more than when they entered it. They should be in a position where the security and services that become available allow them to gain skills, either to better their quality of life or to eventually not need financial support, even if they do need the medical. None of us should be having to scrape back old skills because we lost the connections that allowed for them.
I’m terrified to post this. But perhaps that is because of what I’ve written- and maybe that fear is what has kept someone else isolated too.
[Content: Abuse, ableism]
I don’t want younger Autistics to learn some of the skills I have- or, at least, not the way I learned them.
Let me explain- it’s not that I’m against someone deciding to learn a new skill that they want or need to learn to achieve things that they want. I’m not against teaching a kid of any neurology new things as they explore their world. But there are some things that aren’t worth the trauma- the long term emotional damage- of how they are taught. Or, at least, of how they are taught to Autistics.
Recently, I was teaching a friend how to do dishes. Step by step, gently, with examples and tips. Feel as you wash- if you feel any grease or food bits, it’s not clean yet and you need to keep scrubbing. Later, I paused in the middle of pouring myself some water. You know, that’s not how I learned to do dishes. I learned it traumatically.
My mother was working when we first had “big” solo chores. We rotated chores between all three siblings. My mother’s second husband, whose death I talked about in my last post, was the adult on hand for chores. He herded me into the kitchen, and told me to do the dishes.
It wasn’t “casual” ableism that he used then. It was fierce and directed. He loomed over me when I said I didn’t know how, and used it as “proof” that I wasn’t really smart- the only alternative had to be that I was lazy. So I tried doing the dishes while he went off to do his thing. I pondered on the fact that there’s cross cultural archetypes of Cinderella while I tried. When I finished, I would declare it with relief.
He would loom again, and wave the dishes in my face. He would tell me I was obviously trying to get out of doing my fair share, because they weren’t done right. And so I did them again, over and over. I think I threw up a couple of times at first- I hate the oily texture at the bottom of the sink when people fail to scrape their plates, and the smell of used dish water. Letting the water run was not allowed if Rick was watching, so the smell and oilyness of the first rinse was there, while the soap bubbles waited in the second sink for a rinse. Not even gloves were an option- instead, I was to learn to deal with the sensory assault that was my “fair share” of keeping the household.
I believe he enjoyed his use of humiliation. His combination of verbal and physical intimidation was effective in eventually teaching me basic skills like this, the very technical skills that are the building blocks of independent living skills. The process was repeated with a lot of skills and “skills”. Vaccuming and laundry went hand in hand with passing, with not looking “crazy” and not echoing “nonsense”.
The Wise man doesn’t speak what he knows. And I wanted to be wise, because according to Rick, no one would believe I was competent.
It was better when my mother was home, but there would be little reminders that would just seem stern without the context that happened when she was at work. But the repetitive enforcement of my lack of skills, of how bad I was at covering, at passing, was just as destructive if not more than the times he loomed over me. The same things I observe being used to teach kids with similar behaviors today were the hardest part.
When the inevitable meltdown happened, it seemed, from the notes she took, unprompted or triggered by things that were relatively innocuous. That’s not to say I wasn’t easily triggered before, but they were always specific things, things she could figure out.
Rick had been gone for more than 5 years before I could articulate half of what happened to me. It was two more before I could do it well enough to get it across to my mother how much she had missed.
The damage done in the name of teaching me skills isn’t worth the skills. It isn’t worth the years of self hate, the years of denying myself the services and supports I needed in order to prove his tirades wrong. It isn’t worth the nightmares I still have of his eyes when enduring forced eye contact.
Look me in the eyes. If I let you grab my chin and point it somewhere- especially at a face- you know I trust you.
You want to talk about how hard it will be for your son? How you just want your daughter to get married some day? Stop. Stop thinking about your own wishes, your own images of how your kid’s life will go. Look at the skills they show interest in. Find what they are personally ready for, instead of what some book says is “developmentally appropriate.” Let them build their own image of what success is.
Because the trauma of forcing someone into a schedule they aren’t ready for? Of forcing unneeded skills? Of removing non-harmful but socially difficult coping skills? Of holding up your own wishes and ideals as the goal?
Isn’t worth the trauma.
“All of us have moments in our childhood where we come alive for the first time. And we go back to those moments and think, ‘This is when I became myself.‘” – Rita Dove
This is part two of a two part post. You can read these separately, but this post will make more sense if you’ve read On Childish Things I first.
[Content Warnings: mentions of Abuse, ableism, denigration of “childish” behaviors”, sibling's internalization of abuse/ableism]
The year that Rick left was the same year that I read the Harry Potter books. At first I had been reluctant to even read them for the same reasons I had avoided other fantasies people my age were reading. But then I read Prisoner of Azkaban.
I hadn’t sought it out. My cousins from New York were visiting and my Aunt Lisa over heard me complaining that I was bored and wanted something new to read. She went to her van and dug out one of her son’s books and handed it to me. I think the most effective way to explain what happened is to say Collin never got his copy of PoA back. (Cousin, I owe you a copy if you ever read this.)
Within a few months, everything in my life became about Harry Potter. It was mostly internally, as we were too poor to afford any merchandise. But every moment, every safe hold, was wrapped up in this special interest that was blossoming within me. I dreamed of leaving Rick and therapy and censure behind, to go to a school- not a magical school, I knew that wasn’t real- where I would have to stay in a dorm, as safe from it all as Harry seemed to be from his Aunt and Uncle. Indeed the moment when I truely came to love the SCA was when, during my first Pennsic, the only comments I got to sitting to read in a public thoroughfare were comments from adults asking me like an equal how I liked the latest book.
Rick finally left that fall- and we got internet for the first time. My struggles with being around others my age had developed to a point where, combined with behaviors at home, the choices were a residential placement or the newly emerging cyber school programs. We chose cyber school. That first year of internet was covered through that, though I learned more from my “recreational” time than I had from the official curriculum. Searching for more things on Harry Potter, I found the Fandom community.
I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Fandom. I think of it a bit by taking apart the word parts. Like in a kingdom, all things were centered on what the thing we were fans of in place of a king’s will. It’s like a community where a shared interest- or, not uncommonly it seems, special interest- is where everything is funneled through. I learned so much there- how to have friends, how to maintain coversation, even how to write and articulate my thoughts and feelings beyond inept, purely practical communication.
Being a part of this community was just as “magical” as Hogwarts itself. The elusive concepts of community and fellowship that I saw others have little trouble with became real things. Connection to others suddenly had a real value. I could go on, I think, for a long time about how Fandom changed me, gave me elusive skills, and even healed some parts of me that abuse and mistreatment had damaged. (Indeed, Fandom and the vast joy it gave me allowed me for the first time since early childhood to reclaim that oft repressed joy of flapping.) But Fandom’s healing powers has only a tangiantal connection to what this post is about.
Until after I graduated high school, Harry Potter and its fandom were my primary interest. I ate, slept, and breathed it, I did my homework at school instead of reading in my down time there so that I would have more time for it at home. I excelled in it. When I finally returned to public school after a year at the cheapest private school in my area- an evangelical school- I had a focus that allowed me to ignore the other students for the most part. This focus on fandom and my fandom friends also allowed me to follow my mother’s advice of just trying to be painfully nice to others, which meant I did eventually gain a limited number of friends.
At the same time, though, the other things that I had avoided continued to be things to avoid. While some of the other fans my age were also into books like Animorphs, I secretly looked down on them. (I now recognize how horrible this is, and wish to appologize to my friends who I secretly held this interest against.) Though my brother’s skill at video games and my own enjoyment of RPGs existed, I tried to focus on more mature stories ranging from the Final Fantasy series to fairly- though not explicitly- adult themed tabletop gaming. Other stories were terrifying to me because of the childish associations I had for them. Indeed, though I did play Pokémon in private when no one was around, I didn’t allow myself to talk about it. I didn’t allow myself to fix the names in my head of the various creatures and towns for fear of anyone actually knowing that I could enjoy it.
While my interest in Fan art and geekiness allowed me to gain an interest in the art and style of Anime, I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy any of the stuff marketed to teen aged girls. Indeed, even though a distant cousin of mine shared an interest in anime I couldn’t deal with being around her for very long, as her love of Sailor Moon left me conflicted and a little scared. It was firmly, to my mind, in that realm of childish things. Even though my primary tormentor was gone, the fear of being seen as a child and as incompetant remained.
The effects of how Rick used this to divide my siblings and I remained too. My brother was 16 and I 17 when he decided he couldn’t handle living with me anymore. My behavior at home, though much better, could be set off by taking away my special interest. I was using up my energy and self control at school and in public, and couldn’t handle being parted from my interest for most things that my brother saw as “normal.” Honestly, I don’t know to this day what he thought would be better or more normal. I have no idea what else someone with very few friends- most of whom I didn’t do anything with outside of school or organized activities until the end of my Senior year- was supposed to be doing. I did know that I had something that brought me joy, and that taking it away brought me distress.
Having internalized the idea that I would never be mature or competant, my brother couldn’t take it any longer and moved in with the family of one of his friends. Though he is not as avoidant of me as he once was, he never lost the idea of me as incompetant. The idea that I would never be competant to fully understand things never left him. To this day, I do not feel safe holding any opinions when I am around him. I am not skilled enough or fast enough with putting things into words to defend my opinions, and when I become frustrated he brings up that I’m too emotional, stupid, or even incapable of understanding things to hold a proper opinion. Indeed, even those times I have prepared myself he will point out that in his opinion since I’m Autistic, what I have learned about social dynamics, politics, and even social justice are invalid or just not true. That my reasoning automatically must be immature and incomplete. I my mind, he has assumed the role of Rick’s enforcer, even if he doesn’t mean to.
Before Will left, my sister had her accident. Her own judgement centers had been damaged by her Traumatic Brain Injury, and this left her with following impulses. Unfortunately, this meant that I lived through a period of several years where she took advantage of how easily upset I was. However, she had been too young to have the full force of Rick’s influence and she eventually matured. At first, she still thought my uneven skills meant I was being stubborn or lazy. After my niece was born, though, she dated a young man who had 4 step siblings who were all somewhere on the Spectrum. Seeing that wide display of what Autism could be, her approach towards me changed. I’d never say she treats me perfectly, because she’s still herself- a proud bitch by her own labling. (I only use this word for her because it is how she describes her self when she’s short tempered.) But she treats me as an Equal in a way that accomedates for what I do need accomedated for. When I need her help, she no longer holds it against me. While she is still hard on me, it is more of pushing me in my skills than accusing me of anything. She treats me as much as an equal now as she treats anyone, really.
Years have gone by. I’m 24 as I write this; it has been more than 11 years since Rick left. While I hope, I doubt that I will ever reach the day where the things he left behind in my head are ever completely gone. Afterall, milder forms of what he has said are riddled throughout our society. Careless ableism, paternalism, and fixation on the pitiable and perpetual child with disabilities are unfortunately a deeply ingrained thing for the West. But I take hope, I think, from the little buddings of Autistic Community Building. It’s not just the community itself, of course- community alone is something I could seek out in fandom- but a community that recognizes and reclaims the things we’ve been told to hide.
Some of my friends haven’t felt forced to give up childish joys. I wish I were one of them, but I am not. In spending time with my community, particularly members my own age range, I am surrounded by reminders of what I had forsworn, of joy. But for me, reclaiming this part of who I am is harder than reclaiming the joy and releasing the shame of stimming. Rocking and flapping in public is no where near as terrifying for me as openly taking joy in childish things.
I wish I had a better way to word all this. To uncover all the parts of that terror. In fact as I type this, my throat is tightening with anxiety. If I reclaim my childish joy, a part of me thinks, am I affirming that idea of being stuck a child? Am I admitting to being that child in an adult body that is bandied about with pity? Do I become not an adult with their own interests but a child stuck on the past?
I know that these things aren’t true. I no longer feel shame for or superior to my friends who continue to take joy in Muppets or My Little Pony. I no longer avoid conversations where my partners linger on Pokémon or Sailor Moon (which it turns out is pretty cool.) I’m slowly taking steps to explore those things that I had discarded in fear.
But my doubt in myself lingers, and I find it so hard to join in joy easily, myself so out of practice at the words and flow for these sparks of childhood that I mumble or stay silent. I have to tell my dearest friends aloud that I do enjoy listening to them talk, and to pardon my silence because it’s too scary, my toungue too trembling, to join in their words. I beg of them to indulge and keep talking, because I still love some of these things but am not yet past my fear enough to speak that love aloud.
A friend recently was talking to me about the new Muppet movie and their excitment over it. Eventually they took notice, though, that I only hummed along to their singing and smiled and nodded to their reiterations of facts. Like many members of our community, they had been taught that a shortcut to figuring out if someone isn’t as interested in a conversation is if they do the smile and nod. Trying to explain this whole thing to them was difficult- they had never been made to feel as I had. Eventually I just told them I’d be writing this post, and we continued on walking.
A block later, I mentioned having enjoyed the muppet babies cartoon when I was very little, and how I had liked the peanut butter and bananas sandwiches that one character had been fond of. It was a short sentance, but it was something. Some sort of tiny step forward.
This week, I have plans to try and see the new Muppet movie. I don’t know that it will happen- my mother is a bit unreliable for recreational plans- but it is a plan.
My three-year-old niece, too, has been a catalyst in re-examining these things. Last week, my niece and I started watching a children’s show called Ruby Gloom. The day after she left, I was still at my mother’s. I turned on the Xbox, and I sat down and watched an episode, just for the Joy of it.
Progress is slow, but it’s never too late to make a little more.
“It is never too late to have a happy childhood” – Tom Robbins
This post is dedicated to my best friend. Their interest in things I had put away initiated my thoughts, and their joy made me re-explore my own shame.
[Content Warnings: Abuse, ableism, spiritual violence/abuse, misapplication of biblical concepts as justification, denigration of “childish” behaviors”, mention of disordered eating]
“The things which the child loves remain in the domain of the heart until old age. The most beautiful thing in life is that our souls remaining over the places where we once enjoyed ourselves.” – Kahlil Gibran
When I was a kid- and I mean between the ages of 8 and 13- I was desperate to get away from anything I liked that were “childish things.” Cartoons? Muppets? Books with pictures in them? All became objects of shame. For me, though, this was not triggered by an internal dislike. Here, I cannot speak to the lives of other Autistics. I know a number of my friends and collegues who never faced this particular pressure, even if they faced the same taunts. The same use of “childish” as a dirty word.
My mother’s second husband, Rick, was a big man, and a bully. Speed, attention, interests- all were made into critical faults in me. Even hunger after school was pointed to and mocked when my mother wasn’t around, fostering an unhealthy relationship with food I still haven’t been able to shake. His treatment of me was often explained away by two interconnecting concepts. The idea that as a child with disablities, I both needed treatment and couldn’t accept it as “right” was a big one, but the other was the concept of “The Willful Child.”
“When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I grew up, I put away childish things.”- 1 Corinthians 13:11
Today, I may be Jewish. I’ve even taken on my ethnically Jewish stepfather (my mother’s 3rd husband)’s last name, Breakstone. But at that point in my life, my immediate family all practiced some variation of Christianity. I could talk about specific denominatons or sub-faiths- from Dutch Reform to Jehovah’s Wittness- but in truth, what was held in our home had less to do with a denominational affliation and more to do with Rick’s idea of using biblical teachings to his conveniance.
One of his favorites when it came to me was the concept that some of you may be familiar with of “The Willful Child.” James Dobson’s books on this idea- The Strong-Willed Child- may be fairly known now, and maybe they were at the time as well. What I do know about how they were used at this time was how they were used at my house- the same way the bible itself was used, at least when my mother wasn’t home. The principles were twisted to Rick’s convenience. (My mother and I personally found that “The Explosive Child” by Ross Greene worked a lot better for me in the end.)
While at the same time encouraging services and at home abuse as “needed treatment,” Rick also labled my behaviors as that of the willful, sinful child. I was told that I was everything that a good “Christian” child was not, be they actually backed up by biblical text or not. Resistance to abuse was also framed as childish, and as willfulness. Both typical behavioral censure and spiritual censure were used against me for things as simple as wanting to continue playing with something or not cleaning up fast enough. (In retrospect, it is no wonder it took me so long to admit that even as a child- and I hope not to offend my Christian friends and readers- I found the concept of a risen Christ improbable at best.)
Perhaps most devestating in the long run was how this censure was used to divide me from my siblings. Today, I have a supportive relationship with my sister. But at the time- and to this day with my brother- this was not true. My behaviors, my failure to live up to Rick’s idea of an obediant young woman, were held up to them as a model of everything they ought to strive against being.
I think my Catholic friends might be familiar with what my behaviors were labled under different names. Lazy (Sloth) was a big one because of my lack of speed and efficiency. Angry or even violent (Wrath) when I was reduced to lashing out as resistance. Fat, chubster, and so forth (Gluttony) for hunger and later hoarding behaviors. While I avoided the traditional concept of vanity being played against me until my eating disorder had excelerated, elements of it cropped up in accusations of selfishness (Greed) and willfulness whenever I attempted to establish boundries about my self, my privacy, or my belongings. Indeed, my distress when several things I had charished as perhaps only an Autistic can were lost in our move to Pennsylvania were added to my greed and willfulness. The only “Cardinal Sin” I was not accused of in some way was lust, though I’m not sure if it was through the non-consensual labling of PWD as asexual (as opposed to labeling one’s own orientation as such) or if it was my age.
I could- and perhaps someday I will- write a full length book about the things that happened when my mother was not at home. I want to reaffirm right now that other than her obliviousness to what was happening my mother did right by me in every way that she could. I believe that in part the spiritual abuse she was facing- an abusive form of complementarianism combined with a religious bigotry against divorced individuals- combined with her own ADHD that allowed things to be missed. Additionally, Rick’s articulate dissmissals over my barely articulated- if you could even call it that- complaints of “unfairness” would be hard to dismiss in our society even without the abuse she was facing.
When I started this post, I didn’t realize how much spiritual abuse played into this, nor how much “willfulness” and “childishness” had been conflated. In any case, they were conflated and tied together. Indeed, any sign of so called willfulness were pointed out as evidence of why Rick’s claims that I would never grow up, that I would be perpetually incompetant to make my own choices just as a child would be. I became desperate to prove somehow that I wasn’t childish- that I wouldn’t stay a child forever.
Unable to eliminate my “childish, willful” behaviors despite my own best efforts and Rick’s “treatment,” I searched for other ways to escape this censure. The only thing left to me was to eliminated the outward trappings of childhood as much as possible. Things that I enjoyed became things to avoid at all costs. Cartoons were an especial target, even if they weren’t designed exclusively for children. We didn’t have TV- we couldn’t afford cable, and there were no channels that we recieved reception for- but we did have VHS tapes.
No longer could I enjoy, for example, the animated Hobbit and Return of the King. I forced myself to bury my distress at having lost my Disney movies (they were among the things that were lost in the move), and struggled when my brother’s interest in Beauty and the Beast and The Nightmare Before Christmas flourished as we entered our teens. Even my enjoyment as a child of puppet based television such as the Muppets or Fraggle Rock were to be eliminated.
Toys, too, became objects of dirision, even ones that were educational or even deemed “age-appropriate.” I had never really played with my toys the way some children would- I stacked my dolls or created displays of them unless another child was present to direct play. But now even creation of toy based dioramas was taboo. My drawings became focused on more mature subjects and styles. I began to draw, for example, scenes of the slave trade instead of costumes when my interest in history shifted to the Civil War era.
Indeed, I struggled even with my special interest in history. While it can be a mature and sober pursuit, it had initiated via a children’s book on dolls from the Victorian period. My readings turned from child appropriate texts to thick novels and non-fiction accounts. I think I would have turned to them even without this pressure, but I don’t think I would have been so strident in avoiding books written for children my age. Perhaps I wouldn’t have mocked them as harshly.
My own sense of aesthetics was also to be challenged anytime it might co-inside with “childish things.”
One thing I couldn’t rout out, though, was my interest in fantasy and magic. I did try to limit it to “classics” of the genre though- instead of contemporary young adult fantasy I read T H White, CS Lewis, J R R Tolkien, and similar almost exclusively. The exception was in the school library, where I read every vampire novel I could get my hands on. Even there, though, I tried to form a preference for classic, genre development specific stories such as Carmilla. I don’t regret this, as it did eventually develop into my sub-interest in Gothic Victorian Romantacism which I indulge in to this day. I did take joy in it, but I trained myself to limit my expressions of that joy.
Fairly early on, before things became more obviously abusive, my expressions of joy and comfort were limited. If seen on a timeline, this was the “first” target, though it is one that regretfully many parents of Autistics target. Flapping was eliminated. Bouncing was frowned upon. Toe walking was framed as inappropriately timed and poorly executed “ballet” play. (I was interested in dance when I was very young, but by this point I was not.) Wiggling my fingers was wrong. Even those “allistic stims” of leg jiggling or finger tapping were a basis for censure, pointed to as proof that I was unthankful, impatient, and willful. The only acceptable forms of joy were smiling and sometimes- and only when deemed appropriate- laughter. Seeing as how smiling wasn’t an automatic thing for me, especially when feeling simply happy, this didn’t become terribly common.
Children need models rather than critics.
– Joseph Joubert
This post has gone much deeper and longer than I ever thought it would. It has been harder to write than I truely expected, even after thinking about it and predrafting it in my head for a month. I’ve decided to save the second half for another post, which you should expect tomorrow. It covers the working through and reclaimation of joy, among other things. EDIT: The second post, On Childish Things II, has been posted.
This post is dedicated to my mother. Without her, I would have been forced into institutional settings and would never have been able to move beyond this to reclaim joy.
Being polite is this really tricky thing for me.
On one hand, I know that I struggle with being polite, even when I mean to be. There’s lots of little things that even after ages of studying, I miss. And those little things end up having big consequences as to how I’m taken. I miss a signal to stop, I’m “over bearing;” I miss that I’m supposed to say something/contribute, and I’m “Unfriendly.”
As a kid, I would try (when brave enough) to mimic the “playful” teasing I observed between my peers, and miss that it had slipped over that vague line of playful. I was shocked and hurt to hear my mother mention my on occasion ”bullying” kids who were trying to be my friends. But the rest of the time, I was too “shy,” too “drawn into my own world.” It seemed as though there was no way to reach a happy medium in between, the one where other kids would presumably like me.
I’ve gotten, I think, a little closer to a manageable compromise. I’ve decided against listening constantly and desperately to the coaching and pleading, and generally try to be nice, opting to withdraw rather than risk it.
There are exceptions, of course. I tend to have a highly developed sense of right and wrong, and sometimes there’s just a little too much *wrong* in the world. Then I seem to slip up.
Let me give you an example. Recently, I was visiting my Aunt in NYC. She married a guy who has done pretty well in contracting, and so yes, there’s a good bit of a class difference. In any case, we were having conversation with my sister and step aunt, nd she started going on and on about how great “The Secret” was. She was recommending it to my sister. After a while, I couldn’t handle it any more.
I stated that actually, a lot of people who are facing various oppression (Like classism, racism, or ableism around Mental Health Issues) find the culture around subscribing to The Secret to be very hurtful. Too often, people whose issues face against more than the white middle class abled “mainstream” are said to have not worked hard enough at it for the “Laws of Attraction” to have worked. The Secret in too many circles is used to both deny privilege and to blame oppressed peoples for their continued struggles.
That’s not to say that there aren’t people for whom it works and is mega helpful. But to hear it go un-critiqued when recommended to my sister- who like me comes from a different economic class and who has her own disabilities- was not something I could handle. I Had to say something.
I later found out that she thought I hated her, in part from this and in part because of not interacting otherwise as she expected. Which isn’t true- I love my aunt very much, I just get frustrated by what I see as obvious class differences and how they effect how we see the world.
In any case, I end up feeling as though I’m too mean.
Online, it’s a little bit different. Somehow, I feel as though I’m a little too nice compared to some of my friends and fellow advocates. Maybe it’s who I spend time with. I often feel like there’s so much of my conditioning from childhood of trying to fit in, to dodge some of the less than wonderful experiences of “treatment” that makes me try to be nice all the time. To educate instead of protecting my boundaries.
Most of the people I know in Social Justice circles know that it’s not an oppressed person’s duty or reason for being to educate those who hold privilege over them. It isn’t, for example, an Autistic’s (or other person with disabilities’) job to live as a “self narrating zoo exhibit” as Jim Sinclair would say. It is the oppressor’s duty to get educated, not the oppressed’s to educate.
But I cannot bring myself to not educate. Trying to establish boundaries like some of my friends have is something that leaves me feeling torn. And I know that it is okay for me to educate people, but sometimes I worry it makes me seem too *nice* when compared to some of my friends. And I don’t mean nice in a kind person way. I mean nice in a too compliant way.
Nice in a way that would make people I love and respect look down on me as feeding into my own oppression. Or, perhaps, in a way that belies how deeply ableism has infiltrated my thinking. There’s a lot of things I keep stumbling across when I go to examine my thoughts that remind me how much of life as someone who- in my case- is an Autistic and has MH issues ends up being about compliance in order to survive.
How much of my desire to be kind is based on my beliefs, and how much is based on the feelings that I need to be “nice” in order to be worthy of surviving, of getting the supports I need?
I’m not going to stop being kind, or educating people. I will admit I can get s little sharp- for me- on my tumblr, but that’s tumblr and a lot of it is reblogging other, sharper people’s comments. But I’m not going to deny that drawing the line between being kind and being compliant is difficult.
But then again, undoing the things we have internalized is never easy.
Sorry if this isn’t at my usual standards. I just needed, for myself, to write this.
This has been republished at Shift Journal.
[Trigger Warning: history and images of restraint and restraint related abuse. If you would like to view this post with the images redacted, please see the image-less version.]
Wanderers- people with Mental Health or Developmental Disabilities who “wander” off. The most common image of a wanderer is an older adult with dementia. I know that- before her health failed- my great grandmother ended up in a locked ward at a nursing home- the “wanderer’s ward.”
A little more relevantly, a number of Autistics are or were wanderers, myself included.
One afternoon when I was in 1st grade, a teacher’s aide called my mother to let her know that she had some concerns. I wasn’t making it into the class room- I would get off the bus and wander around the school yard, looking at all the little things that exist in yards on a warm fall day. If I *did* make it into the class I would end up wandering the halls when the teacher would send me to the speech room. This was in addition to other in class things, too. At this point, my mother demanded that they have an aide escort me from the bus to the class, and my “services” began. This was a year before Asperger’s would be added to the DSM IV.
The reason I bring this up now is because the CDC put in their recommendations for the ICD-9-CM (International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification; the US government’s official system of assigning codes to medical diagnoses and procedures). In this, they included a recommendation for a diagnostic code for “wandering” behaviors. (Here is the Complete PDF of the CDC’s recommendations.)
Here’s the problem- having it listed as a diagnosis/diagnostic code doesn’t add anything to the situation to make the constructive steps they outline happen. What it does is create an excuse or justification for things like restraints. Wandering behavior sure has in the past.
The Utica Crib was developed at the New York State Lunatic Asylum in the 19th century. It was based on a French design, but the Utica Crib incorporated the slats. It was used to keep people who might get up and wander around at night in bed. This would allow a smaller staff, or even enable another problem- having other patients do a percentage of the care work. This issue was more prominent at Developmental Centers, where those deemed as “higher-functioning” were enlisted as unpaid care-laborers.
Bed Straps were Used in a similar fashion. The patient would be tied to the bed, to limit movement and prevent wandering. In some cases, the individual might be strapped down in the daytime hours as well as at night.
This is one of several images of individuals being tied to chairs or Benches from A Christmas In Purgatory, a famous Photo-essay/expose on the conditions of those with Developmental Disabilities in an institution from the early 70′s. (Here’s A child Bound to a bench with hands tied and a nude woman tied to a bench next to several other women.)
This was another method frequently used to restrict wandering behaviors. The patient was tied around the waist to a lead on a bench in a matter that would keep them from getting off the bench. in some cases, additional restraints were used. In the above photograph, the individual wears a restraining jacket, and propped up with a pillow- which would further restrict the amount of movement the lead would allow.
Restraints that further restrain movement can lead to a number of issues, including bed sores and staph (and in more recent times, MRSA) infections.
I researched the local Developmental center’s history when I was in high school, and it required firsthand sources. In interviewing several people who grew up in the surrounding community and spent time on the grounds (usually because a parent worked there), I heard a lot.
The more mild stories were of people with leads tied to outdoor benches, giving them a 5 foot range in which they could wander. Some of the more frightening ones involved peering in a door window as a small child, to see an individual tied to a chair, urine stains on their pants and pooling underneath. When my interviewee had asked what had happened, one of the staff members had replied that he kept “elopeing” and that he still had a couple of hours left in the chair. She remembered hearing him crying to be allowed to use the restroom. This would have been in the 1960s.
Reforms have happened in the recent past. But Abuses still happen, people are still restrained, and bed restraints of various sorts are still used on night time wanderers. Presenting a code for this behavior just adds one more thing to legitimize some very damaging approaches to people who have a long history of abuse.
It isn’t some distant fringe that advocates restraints. In researching this post, I cam across repeated examples of this. Modern versions of the Utica Bed, but now made with mesh and external zippers, marketed to parents of children who wander. In 2005, the FDA had to issue an alert on Vail Beds because of safety hazards.
Older Adults with dementia are put in “Gerichairs”- geriatric wheelchairs that bind the user to the chair, too often in a way that prevents the user from unbinding themselves. While they can be useful tools for those who need the physical support, when used as a restraint tool it can be dangerous. Bedsores and other infections are common remarks on the use of these chairs. (An FDA statement on improper use of geriatric equipment.)
These abuses are not only in our past. Pretending otherwise just endangers people. I strongly believe that the implementation of a wandering diagnostic code would only add a justification to a group of people who already invoke their own personal difficulties as reasons for abusive behavior.
(Please Sign ASAN’s petition against the Implementation of this abuse enabling code. You can read more about it at the above link.)