We are running up on the 2015 Disability Day of Mourning vigils (aka Day of Mourning 2015: Remembering People with Disabilities Murdered by Caregivers on March 1st) and it has me thinking about parents. Or more specifically, how parents react to the autistic and broader disability communities.
I kept asking people to consider hosting vigils, and too often there was push back that they were concerned that the parents in their community or the parents of their group members would fight it. Which I want to say puzzles me, but that isn’t quite right. I know what is happening here, it happens elsewhere too, but it still seems like nonsense.
First let us start off with this: Unless you’ve murdered or tried to murder your child, or actively fantasize about murdering your child, this isn’t about you. This event? Is not talking about all parents as some sort of blanket entity. It is acknowledging that while hopefully you, my reader, are not going to kill your kid or charge, there are people who do, and that that is wrong. I, and the disability community, want you to join us in saying “it is wrong to kill your kids. Period. Disability is no excuse, lack of services is no excuse. It is wrong.”
Saying that it isn’t okay to kill your kids isn’t about you, as a good parent. It isn’t, I promise! But it is important for you to join in on. You can’t tell, and we can’t tell, merely by looking that the parent next to you is also a good parent. The children who have survived can tell you that. The people who outlived a loved one who didn’t can too. So it is important to make sure that you are telling all parents, good and bad, this very simple thing- that disability status isn’t an excuse for murder. That murder is bad. It might feel too basic, but the cases we’ve heard of over the past several years show that when it comes to this issue it clearly isn’t. There’s still enough sympathy, enough rhetoric, that makes some people think it’s the better choice.
But the vigils for murder victims aren’t the only place I’m running into this issue. I do a lot of policy work. I have a deep love hate relationship with doing policy work, though part of the hate if I’m honest has to do with most of it currently requiring a minimum of a 5 hour drive each way. At some of these meetings parents come in and say some very reasonable things… but then are shocked when I add something that would put protections for their child from them. And every time, I have to tell them “I trust that you are a good parent. I trust that you have your child’s independence, safety, and access to community at heart. But not all parents are good. We have to make sure that their children are also protected.”
Some of them still will be upset. They really want, I think, to believe that if there was just the right services out there that all parents would think like them. I admit, that would be easier. But it’s not true. You can insert your token “and they say we don’t have theory of mind” joke here if you must. But there are parents who have done deeply horrific things to their disabled children, ending in their deaths.
But that’s just the more extreme horrors. I’ve also met people whose parents have told them, all the way up to age 40+, that they are not allowed to vote. In my state, that is not true- you can still vote in PA even if you are under guardianship. I’ve met people who have been told that if they move into a more independent situation, they will either be abused, or subject to more abuse. I know people who were abused before they went into a placement, and whose care givers hold that over their heads as something that will happen if they try again any time they ask for more independence. There are endless ways that a person can let their goodness fade away and reduce their loved one, to aim not for a better life but for one that is easier for the family or caregiver to manage.
And there’s contributing factors as to why these things happen. We have a lot of rhetoric that embraces the idea of people with disabilities being burdens. Sometimes there is explicit wording about our financial cost to our families, and sometimes it is more about all that time. When I was looking around for links on the Tutko case, I had to discard some of them because of how hard they framed things in that first week as being a case of the mother giving up family life to “care” for their kids. That was a deeply horrific case, one that later had that tone stripped as the neglect was extensive and the way that her rejection of help was tied to a history of child protective services was revealed. But it was still the default, and that is concerning. That is how deeply that burden rhetoric has permeated.
Again, I trust that you reading this are good people, good parents. Some might even say that’s too trusting, but I’m going to trust you anyhow. I’m going to trust that when you talk to your kids, you are letting them know it’s not okay for anyone to harm them or to kill them. That you fight for and with them, but listen to them in whatever way they communicate. That you let them know that they are loved, period, and that that love is about them, not about anything else.
And I’m going to ask you to not fight against us, to not be defensive, but instead to stand with us when we say, “no, it’s not okay.”