Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Ashes to Ashes

I got an e-mail from a mother who supports Autism Speaks. She argued that a prenatal test for autism might not be a bad thing because parents who couldn't deal with raising special needs children would have the option to abort them, rather than potentially abusing them after they were born. Here's an excerpt from what she wrote:

My son has Down Syndrome and Autism and is loved beyond measure by me and his sister and the close friends I surround ourselves with. HOWEVER, when looking at abuse cases JUST in the family unit sense toward those with special needs, I can't help but wonder if women should be given the choice to bring a child with special needs into this cruel world.

Personally, I'd adopt a dozen more special needs kids if I had the means! But for the families that mistreat, abuse, neglect and even kill their children with special needs - I'm thinking the option of terminating their pregnancy before the cruelty begins could actually be a better choice. Again, I am PRO-LIFE for my own body and life. But who am I to tell another woman what to do with her body and unborn baby, especially if they feel the environment would not be anything but cruel or neglectful to that child with special needs?

There's a lot of cruelty in the world—no doubt about that. But when society dehumanizes a group of people so thoroughly that they are seen as nothing more than garbage to be thrown away before birth, that doesn't prevent abuse; to the contrary, that makes it a certainty that the small number of survivors will be victims of lifelong abuse. Perhaps not from their parents—but from schools where they are treated as if they're not worth teaching, from doctors who make ignorant predictions that they will never accomplish anything, from bullies who see nothing wrong with taunting and assaulting "retards" (or whatever the wastebasket word of the day is), from employers who refuse to hire them, from landlords who refuse to rent to them, and from the majority of otherwise decent and well-meaning people who avert their eyes and hurry away without speaking.

Cruelty toward autistics, or any other stigmatized minority group, is not a natural state of affairs. It exists because society has chosen to allow it to exist. There is nothing intrinsic to the development of special needs children that makes parents more likely to want to abuse them. Even the idea that their needs are "special" is a cultural construct. What we have here is a mismatch between modern society's narrow, unrealistic expectations and the actual diversity of human experience. In multigenerational autistic families (such as mine) where many of the children have autistic traits, the parents don't see anything strange or wrong when a kid lines up his toys or climbs on the furniture. That's just ordinary childhood behavior, as far as they're concerned.

At various times and places in history, different groups of people have been singled out as so incapable and so vulnerable to abuse that they would be better off dead. In India, until the 19th century, a widow could be burned alive on her husband's funeral pyre. This practice was called sati, also spelled suttee. Because widows often were abused in Indian society, their death was thought to be a merciful way of preventing the beatings, rape, and starvation that otherwise might have awaited them. Often they were drugged so that they would not suffer.

Like euthanasia and eugenic abortion of people with disabilities in today's society, the practice of sati strongly reinforced the prevailing cultural view that widows were useless parasites, unworthy of decent treatment or even life itself. It was because of this attitude that widows were mistreated, not because their existence was too much of a burden on their families and communities.

We're seeing the same social dynamic with autism and other neurological differences, as well as with the concept of disability in general. The more our society declares the lives of certain kinds of human beings to be an intolerable burden, the more abuse and prejudice—and sometimes murder—we find.

Katherine "Katie" McCarron
July 22, 2002 — May 13, 2006
Never Forgotten

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  • Brilliant post as usual....
    In my lifetime, society will change their views about disabled people.
    Neurodiversity is rampant...much to the dismay of others.
    Autistic adults are everywhere and it is my responsiblity as a mother to future autistic adults to demand their acceptance.
    It will happen.

    By Blogger Mom26children, at 1:04 PM  

  • I don't think it would matter with some people if their children were autistic or not, they would still abuse their kids.

    Perhaps instead of talking about aborting babies who might be autistic, the debate ought to shift over to preventing abusive people from bearing children.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:15 PM  

  • Parents who abuse their children are probably going to abuse them whether or not they're "special needs" kids. Society just (appallingly) finds it more acceptable to abuse, neglect, and even murder children who aren't considered normal, and it excuses the bad parent by blaming the child.

    If a person can't love a child because it may not live up to his or her expectations, then prenatal tests shouldn't even be an issue -- that person doesn't belong having children in the first place. Not everyone is cut out for parenthood, and pretending that we can make everyone that way by predetermining how "perfect" and easy a child will be to raise beforehand is stupid, cruel, and wasteful.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:25 PM  

  • Wikipedia mentions two cases of Sati in 2006.

    Worse, there's a hideous cultural thing where a young bride who's in-laws are embittered because they wanted more dowry from her parents will kill her be setting her on fire in a kitchen "accident." Indian women wear saris and cook over open flames in many situations so it can look plausible. The police don't usually do much about it. The ugly in-laws can then set out to get another bride for the son and hope to get a better dowry:

    Bride Burning- in the name of dowry

    Every hour and forty minutes an Indian woman is lit on fire. Every day a woman lives in fear of the day it will be her. This post is based on a paper I wrote. I reference India because most literature focuses on India, not because its the only place it occurs. Dowry violence hurts me for surely I've had a relative or ancestor who felt the pain of dowry abuse. As I'm a reflection of my ancestors who provided me with the building blocks I'm made of I can't help but grieve for the pain they endured. Its my obligation to talk about it and give a voice to those whose voices along with their helpless bodies are all too often swept under the rug.


    This is much more common and current than sati (happens to much younger women) and I really think it has to do with the view that women are a burden and expendable. Then we can talk about aborting girl babies for being girls, in India and China... no doubt elsewhere... and here we have boys being aborted or selected against because they might have an X linked problem, and maybe because it's thought that boys are be more likely to be autistic.

    By Blogger Jenny, at 9:47 PM  

  • The problem is not that we have exceptional children -- the problem is that we have abusive parents!

    Laying the blame at the feet of the children for the abuse given to them by any number of people is disingenuous at best. It's simply another way of denying responsibility.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:54 PM  

  • Mom26children: Thanks, and I very much hope you're right about society changing its views soon.

    Angela, rglovejoy and andrea: I agree that the problem is bad parents, but I definitely would not want the government involved in deciding who is fit to have children. There's so much prejudice, you know they'd never give a parenting license to an autistic person. Preventing abusive parenting would just become another excuse for eugenics.

    Camille: Yes, all kinds of horrific things happen when people are seen as nothing more than a burden.

    By Blogger abfh, at 10:24 AM  

  • I agree - change society and we'll see a happier world. However, as I stated before - I do not believe Autism Speaks is degrading or trying to "kill off" autistics. I honestly believe they are equipping parents with tools to better work with their autistic children, and children with other special needs as well - IMHO.

    I think that maybe the focus needs to be targeted toward society as a whole and as I've stated in previous written word, not posted here, if there is something that can be discovered to help my autistic son's functioning, then bring it on. If it helps the medical and neurological issues - improving the quality of life so my son's frustrations are MINIMAL or GREATLY LESSENED, then I'm all for research.

    Some people will find the negative because of wording. Some people cannot see the big picture of the world. Some people get something in their mind and insist that is what is happening, yet there is literally no proof of what they claim.

    I cannot change these people, however without open minds and doing the research and testing ourselves...without knowing what the future holds, how in the Hell can anyone claim what an organization will or won't do with the information they search for - especially with no proof.

    I may be proven wrong in the future and that's fine by me. But I will not feel bad about -keeping an open mind, -having faith in all people and -continuing to work my arse off to bring more acceptance and equality to those with special needs.

    And as far as abusive parents - I've seen too many times the child with special needs treated very poorly and the non-afflicted child treated like royalty. It happens more than people know, obviously, or care to believe. So to "rglovejoy" that said: "I don't think it would matter with people if their children were autistic or not, they would still abuse their kids." You are probably right - about SOME, but the abuse cases of children with special needs vs. the unafflicted sibling(s) is staggering....

    I stand by my opinion and I stand by my faith. And I will continue on as a Mother From Hell fighting for disability rights and advocating for those that need and want my help!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:17 AM  

  • Parents often have favorites, even when there are no children with special needs in the family. They may prefer sons to daughters, or daughters to sons, or an athletic child to an art lover, etc.

    To clarify my previous comment, when I mentioned bad parents, I was referring to murder and serious abuse -- not to other issues such as showing favoritism, which many parents do without being aware of it. Yes, it's emotionally harmful, but I wouldn't necessarily condemn people who do it as bad parents. Often they are reflecting social biases without thinking about it.

    By Blogger abfh, at 4:23 PM  

  • Excellent post and discussion. The same logic would dictate that all victims are eliminated to prevent persecution!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:51 PM  

  • abfh,

    Thanks for your great insight, as always.

    To Kimberly, I would say that Autism Speaks (and all of us) need to realize that language is important. How we frame our thoughts influences our future actions.

    Autism Speaks needs, at the very least, to clean up its act and eliminate the language and metaphors that are used on its site, in videos made by/for them, and in publications put out by them. This would help all of society value autistics as citizens deserving of equal respect, and not as objects to be pitied, marginalized, or eliminated from society.


    By Blogger Club 166, at 10:16 AM  

  • I've done a lot of studying of they dynamics of abusive and disfunctional families. In such families, it is common, if not the rule, that not all children are equally targeted. This happens regardless of whether there is a special needs child in the family or not.

    So, even in a family where the special needs child is the only abused one, eliminating that child would not eliminate the abuse; another child would be targeted instead. The abuse would not go away.

    (And I suspect that some parents will lavish all their love and attention on a special needs child, while venting their rage on one who is not special needs).

    By Blogger Chasmatazz, at 9:52 AM  

  • abfh, the "slippery slope" argument doesn't really sway my opinion on this one -- I am still perfectly fine with the government telling abusive parents they cannot have children. We as a society take children away from people who neglect, beat, or molest them because we recognize that kids should not be forced into that position because an adult is incapable of being a decent parent. Why should those people be allowed to have more children to neglect, beat, or molest?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:58 PM  

  • Angela, if a parent has had children taken away because of abuse or neglect, the child protective agency usually will take away any more children they may have, unless they can show that they have gotten treatment for their drug addiction, etc., and learned how to be better parents. That happens right now, as a routine matter.

    I wasn't referring to that, but to government agencies deciding that some people are unfit to become parents at all. Under the old eugenics laws of the last century, some people who were convicted of petty crimes (or who were just thought to be odd) were forcibly sterilized, especially if they belonged to unpopular minority groups.

    By Blogger abfh, at 8:56 AM  

  • I don't know that anyone will read this because it's soooo far down the list... HOWEVER -

    I have to apologize to everyone for standing behind an organization that should, in my newfound opinion, go up in flames. I am so very sorry for not investigating more than I did. My only excuse is lack of investigating... I apologize. I will not do THAT again!

    Many say I'm very hard on myself but honestly, what if I was making a decision that affected millions? Nah...I've learned my lesson. My son has Autism and I wouldn't change him 1 iota... Now, my family, on the other hand most likely would, unfortunately.

    Anyway - I apologize... Down with Autism Speaks and Up with some hellraisers to kick the crap out of them! I mentioned on another list that I should've known better...an organization that the government backs that deals with disability... I should've questioned why the government was so happy to promote them. Bastards...

    My heartfelt apologies.
    Kimberly Morrell
    Still a hellraiser, but one that will be investigating until the cows come home!!!

    By Blogger FlyKimmie, at 7:22 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:18 PM  

  • Abortion means to prevent continued pregnancy, not death.

    You people obviously don't understand your own handicap. Have you ever researched your psychological documents that reveal your weaknesses (short-term working memory, lack of fine and gross motor skills, lack of executive functioning, etc...)?

    Probably not.

    So if you're good at art, music or whatever talents you may have, what does that have to do with your autism? Plenty of NTs do the same stuff, only they don't have to obsess over one or two things at a time for many years.

    If you're obsessed with movies and TV, could you handle watching a variety of DVDs and TV shows, or could you only handle sticking to the concrete, sometimes corny shows/movies?

    I'd say the latter.

    I can't imagine you recognizing a wide range of actors/actresses by their faces.

    Many people on the spectrum also struggle more than their typical peers in school. Parents of auties/aspies will flatter their child when they speak to them about their diagnosis while siblings will act gloomy- gee I wonder why! They're inferior in the domestic household and it gets worse when they get older when they realize they can't become a doctor, laywer or dentist. Heck, they couldn't handle working at the worst jobs like at McDonald;s.

    Teachers on the spectrum aren't truly disabled yet they speak up for people like me. Some of them aren't self-diagnosed and they are the biggest jerks out there because they have no theory of mind and cannot listen and converse with a beginning, middle and end.

    Then you've got people like Bill Gates who can work in a hard scientific field but people like me will never reach that level.

    You've also got people that try too hard to be like nerds/geeks because they believe that's what autism is. They also try hard to be like their autistic peers.

    Advocates like Temple Grandin tell white lies to impress and encourage individuals on the spectrum to see autism as greatness when she knows the truth. She uses the concept of "thinking in pictures" to describe this disability in an optimistic way.

    Temple is good at what she does because her disability did not impair her ability to see things visually. Why do you think she doesn't spend her time on the internet blogging, chatting and emailing bimbos like you? Why do you think Jason McElwain is good at playing basketball unlike other people on the spectrum? The same reason Temple is good with animals. The sad truth is that Jason thinks he's a hero (like you posted on another blog, abfh) just like Temple thinks she's a hero (but really embellishes the whole thing) and just as all you bloggers do the same thing (either because you're too impaired to understand or you're doing it to advocate for the money and help others who feel they're not good enough).

    So my advice is this: Don't think about your disability. Be yourself and when and if a cure comes to existence, you can either take it if you're not happy having a disability or don't take if you don't see autism as a disability.

    What's so hard to understand?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:25 PM  

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