I Was One of the Scary Kids

Content note: ableism, stigmatization of Autistics and other PWDs, the Sandy Hook shooting

I didn’t want to write about the shootings at all. I knew a number of people (who I’ll link to throughout this post) and organizations would be posting and writing, working to counter the inevitable stigma fail that would happen. I even was keeping to commenting on the links of people I care about, people who I know and who I want to have these sorts of discussions with. Then, it happened. I’ll leave the critiques of the post gawker promoted to others, but I feel obligated to make a comment about some of the assumptions it is based on and promotes.

That comment starts with a declaration: I was one of those scary kids.

It’s not some great proud thing to say. It’s a truth, a truth that when I reveal it makes people behave differently. Admitting that you were a “scary kid” means that people heighten their bar of behavior for you even more than a simple disability disclosure does. It makes even normal responses to threatening situations take on a sinister light to others. Telling someone to back off goes from angry to a threat. Pushing away someone who feels entitled to your body becomes violence rather than defense from it.

It makes people suspicious. It makes people question your ability to accurately report crime, abuse, or health concerns. When you are a former scary kid and let people know, they don’t want to hire you in meaningful positions — or sometimes at all — they don’t want you living in their buildings, and they don’t want you learning at their schools. Your opportunities are curtailed. You are told all the things you will never do.

All of these are true of having certain disabilities to begin with, but when you add in a confession of having been one of those scary kids it is heightened.

I was a scary kid. It makes me sad, but only because I actually don’t like scaring people, though I often can’t tell.

Before the age of 14, I was the sort of child that service providers recommend parents to place in a residential setting — that is, juvenile mental health institutions. Parents were — and are sometimes still — encouraged to relinquish them to the state, who would willingly pay for this kind of care. My mother fought it, and demanded community based services and the training my providers needed to provide it. But she was pressured the entire time, and when I was reviewing her records last year I found boxes of pamphlets and packets that she was given to encourage my placement in those settings.

I also found her private journals about our lives at that time. These were journals she might only ever show excerpts from to a therapist, but were meant to be private accounts. It was scary for her. I cried when I read them, because it was horrible to realize that I had made my mother feel so horrible and hadn’t known. I had not realized that anyone would have interpreted my behavior in a truly scary way, that they wouldn’t see the same causes that I was reacting to.  But she was terrified in those pages — the ones she never meant for anyone but herself to read. Even in her advocacy work, she wouldn’t say that certain events were from my life, just that they had happened to “a young person” she knows. Even the things that she was terrified about.

In the pages of that private journal, she talks about the times I would charge at or by her. To me, I was desperately trying to escape a scary situation for me. To her, it was a charging at. I would throw things, and at the time didn’t have the impulse control to find soft things in a safe space. I never aimed at people, but to her I just had really bad aim. I screamed, and I said things that made little sense — I was scared and angry and frustrated that I couldn’t articulate it. These were seen as threats. When I was put in a scary situation, I would flail and push to try to get out of it — and these were seen as violence. When she left on trips, I was taken with her because she was worried what would happen if I was left with a babysitter.

Most of the episodes she chronicled for her private memory keeping were ones that she never saw the cause for. So many start with, “I came home from work, and Savannah…” It took me until into my twenties to be able to articulate what happened before — that her second husband had provoked responses and behaviors. How he would tell me I was fat, lazy, and that I would never be competent. How he would threaten me with sending me away.  How he did any one of a number of things that would set off my behaviors. There’s no coincidence that the behaviors dramatically decreased a year after he left- at 14, I even was off medication.

Not all the behaviors were triggered by him — some of them were reactions that I didn’t know how to handle internally. Some of them were because of how my internal state from incorrect prescriptions made things harder to deal with. Some of them were from being unable to handle fear, frustration, and change internally. Change was a big trigger for me, and set off the start of my fear responses. I just didn’t have the skills to handle those states. I would go on to develop them, but I didn’t have them yet.

For me, those times were scary because of the outside world, because of confusion at people’s responses, and because of people using my being a “scary kid” as a weapon. To her, I was scary and she didn’t know and couldn’t predict fully why. She understands it now — time, observation of me growing up and learning, my finally being able to properly articulate what was happening for me in those times.

My mother doesn’t regret keeping it private, between her and her private journal or her therapist. Today she was at  a consumer and family advisory for our behavioral health managed care organization (BHMCO). They read that gawker article, and my mother was appalled. She has scary stories about me, but the idea of sharing them in a way that associated them publicly with me was a horrifying violation of privacy and good sense to her. She was struck by the negativity of the piece, of the author. And she noticed how it relies on and perpetuates stigma, and jumps to conclusions.

Having been one of those scary kids is scary.

It’s not scary in and of itself. What made it scary to have been one is what people assume based on it — and what they assume when you don’t disclose.

I’ve had people try to justify things from the JRC’s electric shocks to denying someone an integrated learning environment, to defend seclusion/restraint to “therapy” induced injuries and even deaths using my fellow former scary kids as their reasons. The kids with “significant disabilities.” The ways that other people saw my behaviors — things I didn’t know at the time- are the same things I hear from people trying to justify violence and isolation towards kids and adults with disabilities.

They also project forward to futures that are inaccurate, contributing to the problems that us scary kids face when we grow up. They say we will become criminals, or will commit violent crime, that we will be a danger to society. That we are “sleeper agents” of mass murder. They say that of course people who have had such and such a diagnosis, especially when you are also a scary kid, will do certain things or will never do other things. That we couldn’t successfully ever live on our own, that we’ll never graduate, never hold a job for long, will never have successful, healthy relationships. That we are doomed. And while not all scary kids have mental health disabilities (and not all kids with MHDs are scary kids), those who have developmental disorders with the right behaviors are lumped in.

When I- and others who are autistic, have Mental Health Disabilities, or both — talk back with truth, we are denied. When we talk about how having xyz diagnosis doesn’t mean we will do stuff, when we point out that we aren’t mass murderers, we are shut down. When we talk about how yes, mental health reform is important but that it shouldn’t come out of stigma, coercion  and false equivalence, we are told that we are calling other scary kids lost causes. When we point out that we don’t have enough information, we are dismissed. When we disclose, we are called too close to the issue. Even when our mothers join us.

In reality, only 5% — or 1 in 20 — of those in jail for violent offenses entered jail with a diagnosable condition. The other 95% did not present as diagnosable on entry. Most of those with diagnosable conditions are there on non-violent and drug offenses, including a number of which are a symptom of a lack of supports rather than their conditions themselves. Some estimates place the rate of Mental Illness at 50% of the inmate population, and yet only a very small percentage are there for violent crimes.

In reality, these impressions of us make us targets of crimes. People with “Serious Mental Illnesses” are more than twice as likely to be a victim of a violent crime. We are targeted for sexual assault, particularly if we are or are seen as women. We are likely to feel stuck in abusive relationships, or to have people use our diagnostic status as justification for abuse. And that is just the violent crimes  — we are astronomically more likely to be victims of personal theft, and 4 times more likely to be victims of property theft.

In reality, the stigma and stereotypes that people are promoting mean discrimination in employment, in housing, even in healthcare and courts. It means having people turning their backs on friendships and relationships when they find out, even if you are relatively stable now, even if you have the supports that make it irrelevant. It means people leaving if you have a setback that they would stand by someone without your diagnostic history for.

It is facing stigma, or hiding from it, sometimes at great cost. I certainly made a lot of poor choices based on trying to hide having been a scary kid, even when I wasn’t hiding having Mental Health Disabilities.

Being a Scary Kid isn’t certain doom.

They told my mother and I that I would never graduate high school and I’d never get into college. Some speculated I’d need to live in a group home or a more intense, and that I’d never live on my own. Some thought I’d get sucked into crime based on my psych history alone. Some said I’d off myself before I turned 18, 21, or 25.

I graduated high school — my siblings, the non-scary kids, dropped out and either have or are working on their GEDs. I even aced a number of classes, and other than my last semester (which was sucked up in depression) was pretty much tops. I’ve had some unsuccessful attempts to live on my own in the past, but those had to do with daily living skills more than being scary. Right now I’m living relatively successfully on my own, even if it did follow a period of homelessness. I did get into college easily, even if I had to drop out for a mix of financial and ADL deficit reasons. I’ve never been in jail.

I celebrated my 25th birthday in August. I am alive, and though my health isn’t the best I am surviving and working towards my own personal wellness.

I have little in common with the things they assumed. My scary is now just the normal stigma that any of us, autistic, with mental health disabilities, or both, face. I do struggle, but not in the ways that were assumed when I was a scary kid.

Being a scary kid is just that — having behaviors that scare people when you are a kid. It doesn’t mean you have a particular diagnosis or neurotype. It isn’t predictive of being a mass murderer or anything else- heck, a lot of the people who are mass murderers, diagnosed with something or not, didn’t reach the heights of being “scary kids” when they were younger. Not scary the way I was, or others were.

When I point out to try not to link scary kids to criminal violence, particularly of the mass murder sort, I’m not saying that services and supports aren’t needed. I’m saying that they would be even if we never had a massive violent event. I’m saying none of us are doomed, if only we combat stigma and prejudice at every chance, be it ableism, racism, or classism that we are talking about.

When I tell you no, I mean that none of us are lost causes.

News and Links!

I know I shouldn’t be doing an “update” post, but I’ve had to delay a lot of the posts I’ve been planning. In the mean time links and things, as well as some plans on what to look for, are ready and I’m pretty excited about them! First I’ll talk about some of the plans I have for the next few weeks,  then the things I’ve done recently around the net, and finally some of the things I’m excited about that aren’t mine. Ready? FantasticAllons-y and Geronimo!

Look for a post about the Allied Media Conference, as well as on how access to various types of media has helped improve my life here on monday or so. I’m co-coordinating the Disability practice space- creating collective access- this year, and I’m really excited about it. (If you want to blog/write/make videos/make art about how media has improved your access, let me know!)

I’m also working on a post about the issue of ableism and classism combining in the practice of telling low income families to call the police when their kid has a meltdown instead of services. I’ll talk about an IEP meeting I had, and I’l talk about how the added factor of racism resulted in the unnecessary death of Stephon Watts.

Elsewhere on the web. . .

My interview with The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism went up! Hurrah! I recorded a video of me reading it which is captioned and included on their post as well.

If you haven’t yet, please go check out the Disability Right Now blog. I’m a staff writer as well as the PR head. We are wrapping up a blog event about George Hodgins, Euthanasia, and Eugenics this week. Next week, I have a post on Disability History 101: the origin of institutions going up for my post for round 1. Also, I worked with the EiC to do an interview about it for ASAN which will be in their April newsletter! Whoo!

Not Quite Web Stuff:

This week I’ll be going to Chicago to co-facilitate for the Illinois state team at an Allies in Self Advocacy Summit. It’s exciting, of course, though at this point I will basically be at the hotel and the airport.

I’m going to be going to a couple of Rallies in Harrisburg, PA this spring. The first one is on Women’s Rights, and Amy Caraballo is one of the organizers. It’s April 28th, and it’s complicated- but I think it will be important to be a PwD at this event.

The Other is May 2nd about the cuts to services for PwD that our current administration here in PA have been pushing. The PA Waiting List Campaign is heavily involved, as is Vision for Equality. I hope to see lots of people there! I’m going under the auspices of SAU1, but I’d love to see some ASAN representation or even NYLN representation!

It’s pretty scary stuff. So far: Disability Rights Network of PA and a whole slew of disability orgs here in PA have filed a suit against the Corbett Administration; Issues with Access to areas of the Capitol for PwD; and some fairly rude treatment of Protesters. (Rendell’s administration regularly sent someone to meet with Protesters with disabilities. Corbett’s ignores us or tries to create barriers to our exercising free speech.)

I personally feel sick over our current governor here in PA’s tenure. But then, I didn’t vote for him. I voted for the other guy. If you are in PA (or anywhere in the USA actually) please register to vote and read up on the issues. Help other people who might have barriers to getting in to vote- especially PwD- get registered and in to the voting booth or registered early enough for absentee ballot or alternative ballot. Last year I almost couldn’t vote because my absentee ballot came late- thankfully the plans that would have taken me out of town were cancelled.

Too often, PwD don’t vote because of a lack of support or people ignoring that we might want to. In the current political climate, it’s especially important that our voices are heard and votes count. You can find out more about getting out the disabled vote from the Disability Voting Coalition of PA.

Other People’s stuff:

Have you seen ASAN’s new website and logo? So pretty! Also, the new website has a lot more features, including membership and a way to sign up for volunteering. Exciting!

Babble.com is doing a Top 30 Autism Blog ranking, and the voting is now! A number of my friends are on the list and are blogs I’d recommend reading. (Along side some I’d have you avoid, but that’s your business.) Good Luck to Lydia, Julia, E, Stimey, “Autismum“, and Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism!

Perils of (Buy?+) Copy+Paste

I have noticed something a little disturbing. Well, perhaps not terribly unusual- may actually be a standard in the world of publicists for all I know- but still disconcerting. What is this? The copying of another person’s article or release as framing for your own work.

I’m not talking necessarily plagiarism- oftentimes, the original writer is cited someplace, in a terribly unobtrusive way. Sometimes, the story was paid for from a news service.  Certainly not Plagiarism. And in the general population, it would be nothing.

But what I’m talking about isn’t just in the general public, general sphere. It’s used by the people who are supposed to be our defenders- without checking that the article or release’s approach is appropriate. It’s one thing to link to an article that has appeared elsewhere. I’ve done it, even when the article in question irritated me. But to run it under your letterhead, or to purchase it for distribution, is something else entirely.

Let me use an example that came through my inbox today:

I got a forward that was originally distributed by the people Organizing the Reinventing Quality Conference in Baltimore, Md this week. I was a bit upset by the approach that the article in the email used, so I started to check them out. From their website, they looked interesting. Lots of talking up about bringing in community living, self advocates, etc. (I’d love to hear from anyone who is better familiar with them and their reputation among self advocates; savannah@autismwomensnetwork.org)

But talking up isn’t unusual even in organizations that aren’t so supportive. It is a tough lesson to learn- one that might make an advocate, particularly one that has ASD related issues, bitter. But many organizations assume token language usage, alongside the more obvious issue of token representation. Not being sure what to think, I plugged the Lede into google.

I discovered a couple of things. It turned out to have been originally written for the Raleigh News & Observer. As a general news  source, the treatment in the article was typical, though frustrating. And it isn’t unheard of for companies the size of their owner, McClatchy, to sell distribution rights (McClatchy-Tribune).  All perfectly normal in the industry.

What bothers me is how many groups- and the sort of groups- have reprinted the article as is. Some do so in a way that clearly shows- albeit at the end of the article- that it was retrieved from a distributor, like Behavioral Health Central. NAMI- for all the issues I have with them- doesn’t even host the full article, and instead links the reader to the News-Observer’s site to read the full article. All of these have various levels of appropriateness in distributing this article. As much as it personally pains me, NAMI’s approach was the most appropriate.

But back to the email I received. This is how it started (where a byline might be):

Image shows the email, with the logo of a non-profit, followed by edit dates, the title of the article, the lede (with Raleigh in caps at the start) and no byline in the normal position

And here’s the bottom (where the full information is given on Behavioral Health Central):

Bottom of the email, with the last line of the article, followed by a name, a phone number, than an edited date and links to two PDFs, followed by the email client's buttons for "reply", "reply all", and "forward"

Someone who is familiar with journalism or publicity might think to google the lede. But my guess is that the majority of readers won’t- maybe their background is in social work, or maybe they are parents. I know the org that forwarded this to me has a primary family base.  To these “average” people, the language would appear to be authorized by the distributing organization.

My opinions on the article itself can be found in my last post. I disliked the perspective. But when a non-profit or other organization promotes an article- especially with such limited sourcing- counter to the interests of the population they claim to serve, there is an ethical problem.

Now, that was just one example- one that was specifically centered on a journalistic article that was distributed without proper sourcing.

But the problem is vaster than that. I have seen publicists copy over releases from government agencies to give context to the information their client is trying to get out. While giving context is an important step, that context needs to be in the language and perspective consistent with the organization you are representing. It is both lazy and unethical to refrain from copy editing the entirety of what you put out there to be consistent. And if a publicist were to submit something this way to a professor in college, they would most likely receive a reprimand.

I have a proposition. Why don’t we all take a moment to find some standards as to what we do and don’t put out there. Here are my suggestions:

1) When distributing an article, source clearly. Don’t cut out the original distributor. Use bylines in their customary place. I would even prefer that the sourcing be put in the by line. EX: “Michael Biesecker for the Raleigh News Observer.” But even putting the sourcing clearly at the end (EX: “Originally published in the Raleigh News Observer”) is at least consistent with Journalistic standards.

2) Use language consistent with the organizations/people we represent. While there does need to be a recognition of the language and views of the public, that doesn’t make it okay to use language inconsistent- or even opposed- to the organization or people. Instead, use it as a chance to promote their language and views, even if only subtly.

3) If creating context, don’t simply copy and paste someone else’s release for it. First of all, it’s lazy and bad work. Secondly, it limits your ability to promote who or what you you are supposed to. And occasionally, it might promote things that are *unwanted* instead.

Ari Ne’eman Appointed to The National Council on Disability

Good News for the Autism community, and for the cross disability movement as a whole. Ari Ne’eman has been announced as one of President Obama’s latest Presidential Appointees. He is currently awaiting confirmation by the senate for a position on the National Council on Disability. You can read the press release on the White House website here, as well as the names and Bios of other Appointees.

This is a big step forward for the Autism Community, particularly (but not exclusively) for the Neurodiversity movement. Ari has been pushing for the needs- and rights- of the Autistic community for years, and to have him appointed to the NCD is certainly the next move in his unrelenting efforts to promote our cause. He has also been involved in cross-disability efforts, an important thing to keep in mind.
There are a couple of pieces about him worth reading if you want some background from someone who isn’t a Blogger. The UMBC article has a lot of information about his childhood and how he got into advocacy, and he has been featured as a leading Autism Advocate in such publications as Newsweek Magazine and New York Magazine.
I have contacted my Senators and President Obama to let them know how pleased I am about this appointment:

I would like to let you know how pleased I am with President Obama’s recent Nomination of Ari Ne’eman to the National Council on Disability.

Mr. Ne’eman has worked tirelessly to make sure that the interests of individuals of all ages across the Autism Spectrum, be it Employment Issues for higher functioning Individuals, Access to AAC Devices for those who are non-verbal, or even in assuring that the lower functioning individuals on the Autism Spectrum are safe from care giver abuse and have access to community based services. His work promoting the causes of the Cross-disability community helps all disabled Americans fight prejudice and give back to their communities.

I am proud to have his voice as the one that is representing my needs as a Disabled American, and look forward to his confirmation, as well as all the work he will do on the NCD. I also look forward to his working along side you all to protect the interests of all Americans though these efforts.

I would like to encourage you all to write similar letters of support; Congress.org is a useful tool for this, but if you don’t want to register, you can look up your Senators and their contact info on this page of the Senate.gov site. If you want to thank the president, you can do so either through the above mentioned Congress.org or on the White House website, here.

Ari is not only an openly Autistic appointee, he’s also the youngest in US history- the previous holder of that title was Mike Lopez at the age of 24. But his experience in disability advocacy is larger than some people ten years his senior- just look at the mini-bio in the Press release, and realize that it is a MINI bio. He just spent this past summer in an internship in DC, and has been very active- both quietly and in the press- over the last several years, all while also being a full time student. With his graduation coming up in the spring, I am looking forward to seeing what he’ll achieve next.

1% rate and Analogies

A couple different things today.

1) On News-Dump day (Friday night is the time to dump news you don’t want carried too far; see this) The CDC revised their Autism statistics from the “1 in 150” to “1 in 100 to 1 in 300 with an average of 1 in 150” Americans. This reflects the wider use and acceptance of the diagnosis. (link, Note: the writer is very curebie.)

2) New Study suggests that Analytic thinking isn’t significantly impared in Autistics, compared to developmentally normal age-peers.

[I]n the new study, kids with autism discerned the overall context of visual scenes and relationships within those scenes, Morsanyi says.

“This finding is quite important and adds to the growing body of evidence that cognitive deficits in autism are not yet properly defined,” remarks psychologist Laurent Mottron of Hôpital Rivière-des-Prairies in Montreal.

Which was important to me because of how I learned to comprehend similes and metaphor- via Analogy.