My son makes noises while riding his Razor in front of our house. Should I be concerned? Should I check with my neighbors to make sure he “fits in?” Or, should I euthanize him?
What was my response to THE angry letter, the one a neighbor sent to the mother of a child with autism?
How dare you.
Did that person really suggest a mother euthanize her child?
Finally, after calming down, I pulled out my old autism standby philosophy: Has that person ever been exposed to anyone with autism? Do they understand at all?
Hopefully, you have heard of this letter by now. I won’t reprint it but here’s the gist of it: A neighbor (I’ll call this person the “letter writer”) of a single mother with an autistic child wrote to that mother about her child’s behavior within the neighborhood. The chief complaint was the “noise polluting whaling” sounds the child makes while running around.
In the second paragraph, the letter writer tells this mother about how worthless her child is, and how worthless that child will be as an adult. The letter writer wanted the parent to consider donating his usable body parts to science to take care of the problem. And, yes, the letter writer used the word, “euthanize.”
After first reading the letter, I was shocked and horrified. I couldn’t quite believe what I was reading. Was this a hoax? Did someone really suggest a parent euthanize their child?
I read the letter again because I still couldn’t believe it.
After reading it a second time, I thought about the noises my son makes while playing on his scooter or running outside. These noises help to regulate his body and help with his oral issues. But, they are indeed noises. They are noisy.
He doesn’t always know he’s making them. I have asked him in the past to lower his volume and he has responded to me, “Mommy, I didn’t know I was making noise.”
I was angry that I was forced to think about my child bothering the letter writer (or, in my case, a potential letter writer within my own neighborhood). I shouldn’t have to think like that, should I?
In quieter public settings, I feel I am a responsible parent. I will ask my son to lower his volume if I feel he may be creating inappropriate noise, like at a play or in the movie theater.
I examine each social situation and act accordingly.
Also, I try to make him aware that he’s making the noises. As I already mentioned, he doesn’t always realize he’s doing it. I don’t necessary want him to stand out in that manner so for years now I have been balancing letting him recognize the noises and trying to regulate them myself.
But, in my front yard? Really?
Okay, maybe if it’s eleven o’clock night, but at ten in the morning? On a Saturday?
For the ten or fifteen minutes that my son needs to go outside to regulate his body, I think the letter writer is saying that even that is not okay. The letter writer said “barking dogs” are normal. Has the letter writer ever lived near one of those dogs that are outside 24/7 and bark all the time? Apparently not. Nor have they ever lived near a freeway like we do. We used to live in the San Fernando Valley where a passing helicopter was considered normal.
How do I feel days after reading the letter?
How dare this person try to tell this mom what to do with her child, let alone kill him!
Obviously, the letter writer has no idea what is involved in raising a child with autism. To me, the first response should be that the letter writer immediately take a course on autism and obtain much needed information and education.
I also dislike that fact that the letter writer tried to say that these thoughts came from the entire neighborhood. So why weren’t there multiple signatures on the letter?
For a quick moment, I flashed back to my own childhood when I was quite the neighborhood bad kid. I got into tons of trouble and I can only imagine what some of those adults thought of me. Yet, I don’t think one of them wanted me euthanized!
What makes this kid so bad?
The only thing that’s bad is the ignorance of the letter writer.
I’m glad the letter went viral on the Internet. It trended right away and even Autism Speaks made a statement denouncing its content. I want it to continue to go around and around in Internet space for several weeks. I want it known to everyone that the child is not what’s inappropriate here, it’s the lack of knowledge that is at fault.
Yet, as Pam Eisenberg from Autism Speaks said about the letter, “Things like this only make our autism community stronger.” She’s right.
What can I say to the letter writer?
YOU can move. If you don’t like your situation, change it. We realize now that you need some higher education, but perhaps a change of location might do you good.
Part of me wants your name exposed and part of me doesn’t.
I really don’t want you and your family to suffer the blow that would happen if your name was known. And, I believe it will be a blow.
I believe in this day and age of microsecond information, your life will quickly go under the microscope. There will be a backlash, and it will get personal. You got personal, and the response will ten times as ugly due to your hatefulness.
But, really, why would I want that? I’d rather you stay anonymous. I really don’t want to put a face to the person who could write such a letter.
To backtrack, though, as an autism mom, I have tried hard to live by the credo to NOT hate the ignorant. My son has been called a brat. In response to that, all I have ever wanted to do is sit that person down and have a discussion about autism. I have never responded with hate.
My POV, they just don’t know. There was a time that I didn’t know. Then, I had a child and had to learn all about it. I got educated. And, I’ve wanted to pay that forward ever since.
Can I pay it forward to this person?
Part of me wants to, but the difference this time is we’re dealing with a person who wants a child – a child like MY CHILD – to be euthanized. Put to sleep. Gone. That wasn’t a joke. The letter writer was serious. They want this to happen all because this child is different and has struggled in ways that the letter writer can’t comprehend.
Education is the key here. Maybe not by me, but by someone near to this person. Someone who can sit this person down and say, “Okay, you let’s just assume you didn’t really mean the stuff you wrote and here’s what I can tell you about the needs of a child with autism.”
I hope the letter writer takes a long look at his/herself and honestly regrets what they wrote. I praise the mother of the autistic boy for getting it out there.
She’s obviously more educated than the letter writer for two reasons: Number one, she’s raising a child with autism. Number two, she realized that the autism community is a powerhouse.
We have responded to this letter as the strong community that we are. We stand by this mother. Our community is made up of parents and caregivers who raise special needs children. We know how to face all types of behaviors – as well as all of the misinformation, hate, misunderstanding, confusion, and ignorance that’s out there regarding autism.
To the letter writer – you are ignorant and hateful. Change your life. Get educated. Think about the impact you have had on the thousands of children out there just like the one you complained about. And, don’t you dare ask this mother to change a damn thing about her life or her son’s life. You have no right to complain.
To Find Kimberly Kaplan:
www.smashwords.com or Amazon Kindle ebook “A Parents’ Guide to Early Autism Intervention”