Sarah Levis Girl With The Cane On Avonte Oquendo’s tragic and preventable death. “We send our children to school each day putting faith in the staff, the Board, and their policies and procedures to keep them safe. The education system must be very vigilant about its policies and procedures, its staff training, and its level of responsiveness..”
I was taught to say, “Thank you for being my friend.”
So I say it.
I was told to smile like I mean it.
So I smile.
I know I am supposed to feel grateful
That you are my friend
That you took the class
On how to be a peer mentor to me –
The good friends way –
A pal for six weeks
You have been defined
You are a good person
For giving up your spot
At the popular kids’ lunch table
To earn the community service hours
You need for graduation
By eating lunch with me,
By being my assigned friend.
I ask, “Do you know Jerry Lewis?”
Because I think you would like him
I think you are a modern day Jerry Lewis –
A good Samaritan who calls himself friend.
You don’t have a telethon on TV,
But you have the Jerry Lewis Telethon
In you heart
Imparted by Mrs. Jones in her Good Friends Program.
You are a good person.
You are a trained good Samaritan now called “friend.”
Definition of good Samaritan
” A person who gratuitously gives help or sympathy
to those in distress.”
Next month you will get your community service credit.
Your lifelong attitude about people like me
Will have been shaped
Because the peer mentoring training
Has passed on to you
Society’s adoption of Jerry Lewis’ ideas about me –
A person in need of sympathy
And a person in distress
Only because I am me – an autistic
We have become fake friends
For six weeks –
Having been defined
With a line drawn between us
Our two groups separated
Defined, distinct, different from each other –
Society’s wisdom at categorization…
When it is over
We say our goodbyes
And like I was taught I say,
“Thank you for being my friend.”
And I remember I am meant
To smile like I mean it.
So I smile.
Goodbye peer mentor –
My assigned pal
From Mrs. Jones Good Friends Program.
You go on to your next project
I wait for my next assigned friend to eat lunch with
Both of us having been marked by the experience
Unbeknownst to Mrs. Jones and to us –
The indelible ink of societal attitudes
Wrote messages on both our hearts
Confirming my place in your world…
That it is indeed YOUR world
And thus, your right
To continually put me in my place
For which I am meant to say,
“Thank you for being my friend.”
And to smile like I mean it.
And this status quo could march on and on
Yesterday I stopped smiling
And for all the rest of my todays
I will no longer say
“Thank you for being my friend.”
Even though I know I am meant to.
Podcast from The Lancet:The health of deaf people: communication breakdown .
Paul McCartney Directs His Own ‘My Valentine’ Videos Featuring Natalie Portman and Johnny Depp using ASL. -
Just like people in the neuro majority do not automatically understand social norms of autistics so it is that autistics do not automatically understand the social norms of the neuro majority. This is not complicated. Our different neurologies sort us out to have different norms when it comes to behaviors around friendships.
As a society we seem to operate on an assumption that the social ways of the majority are the right ways. We do not think about this or talk about this. We all define the standard by a majority rules mentality. Then, anyone who deviates from this standard is defined according to his deviation from the norm. Most people don’t even think about this. It is just the way society operates.
However, I think about it. In fact, I think about it a lot. I also believe others should think about this more than they do. If people thought about this more they would come to understand how wrong this not-even-talked-about societal assumption is and how it can lead to hurting people.
This is what I am thinking about just now:
It hurt me when as a little girl all the kids had friends, but I only had peers. The other kids were my peers. They could sign up to be my recess buddy or lunch partner for the day. We all knew these volunteers were really not my friends even though adults would call them that.
I knew that I was the only kid in the class who could never be counted as a peer to anyone else. I also could never be the recess buddy or lunch partner – only the kid who needed one.
This continues to hurt me as an adult. It hurts you too. You may not even know our societal assumption that the social construct of friendship based on the perception that neuro majority way of carrying on friendships is the right way hurts you. It doesn’t even matter if you know it. It will still hurt you. This construct leads to social injustice. And whether you are aware of it or not we are all hurt when social injustice is part of our world.
It is social injustice when one group of humanity is assumed to be capable of being the friend while a smaller group of people is assumed to only need a friend. When you only see me as needing a friend we all lose something. When I was younger and only saw you as being a friend (but not needing a friend) we all lost something.
You see, I can also BE a friend, and in fact AM friends WITH some pretty wonderful people in my life. It took me most of a lifetime to figure this out. Autistic people are just like neuro majority people in that we all need a friend and we all need to be a friend.
I am writing about it hoping you will think about this more. Turns out I am more like you than I am different. I am able to BE a friend just fine – even when I do not act the way the neuro majority act when making and being a friend. Imagine that!
WARNING: If you think about this long enough you may need to change your paradigm of friendship when it comes to autistics. Instead of thinking it is good, kind, noble or heroic to befriend an autistic you may wind up hoping that someday one of your friendships might be with an autistic. WITH. Equal footing. Friends with each other.
(TW: Ableism) Autism Speaks is the most well-known autism charity. They have the most media coverage and are endorsed by many celebrities, but this certainly does not make them a good organization.
- Autism Speaks does not have a single autistic member on their board.
- Autism Speaks only spends…
When autistics say that Autism Speaks (A$) hurts us we are not just saying it. We are stating a fact, a very real consequence of the hateful rhetoric. When A$ says that families are not living, that they are only existing from one moment of despair to the next; when autistic kids are painted as wild screaming beings, breaking things and breaking up marriages; when co-occurring conditions that are not autism, like GI issues and seizures, are used as examples of a suffering and tragic existence; this rhetoric causes real pain to autistics and their families. Those words are used by A$ to give a sense of urgency to their fabricated idea of “epidemic”. A$ uses the number of diagnosed autistic children to project a dire future, an expensive future. But what is not mentioned is that many of those children will grow up to be productive members of society. Maybe most of them could have a better chance to succeed if more investments in assistive technology and education were available. Maybe A$ could help by using more of its money to help autistic children grow up to become happy autistic adults, instead of spending it on researches to prevent people like me to be born.
"Not being able to speak is not the same as not having anything to say". Rosemary Crossley