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I'm Autistic and I'm Tired
By Zack Budryk
There are entirely too many variations on the same story.
On the evening of November 3rd, blogger Jillian McCabe turned herself in after throwing her autistic six-year-old son from the Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport, Oregon. Prior to her arrest, McCabe and her husband had run the now-removed blog Autistic London, chronicling the “ups and downs” of raising an autistic child.
It was a horrific incident but not an isolated one. In October, New York magazine ran a sympathetic profile of Kelli Stapleton, who attempted to murder her autistic daughter Issy in 2013. The piece, headlined “Kelli Stapleton Can’t Forgive Herself; Can You?” notes on its splash page that Issy was “prone to violent rages.” Nor was New York Stapleton’s only defender; Dr. Phil McGraw gave her a platform around the same time to say things like “The jail of Benzie County has been a much kinder warden than the jail of autism has been.”
This week, Gigi Jordan, who forcefed her autistic son a fatal dose of prescription pills, was convicted on the lesser charge of manslaughter, with her lawyer insisting that “she did this because she loved him so much.”
Institutional support for acts like Stapleton’s goes beyond the media. Autism Speaks, considered the autism advocacy organization for some reason, produced “Autism Everyday” a video focused primarily on how an autistic child negatively affects parents’ lives. At one point in the video, Alison Singer, former Autism Speaks board member and founder of the Autism Science Foundation, describes, in front of her autistic daughter, her desire to drive the two of them off the George Washington Bridge, admitting that she has kept herself from doing so only because of how it would affect her non-autistic daughter.
I read about these things from my position as an Actual Autistic Person, and I get scared. Not so much for me, on a practical level, but for the members of my community who, even if their parents don’t do anything to harm them, are hearing the message from the media that if your parents were to murder you, it wouldn’t be optimal but who are we to judge?
Nor is this justification limited to parents; in February 2012, Stephon Watts, a black autistic 15-year-old boy in Calumet City, Illinois, was shot dead by police after they claimed he rushed them with a steak knife; Watts’ parents maintain it was a butter knife. The officers who killed Watts were cleared of all wrongdoing. In 2010, Steven Eugene Washington, an unarmed, black autistic man was shot dead by LAPD officers after reaching for his waistband. The shooting was ruled unjustified and Washington’s mother won a civil suit against the city, but the officers who shot him were not charged with a crime.
I’ve done better for myself than the popular perception of autistic people expects me to. I work full-time, I’m happily married to an amazing woman, and I’m a college graduate. But please believe me when I say there is no way to hear people suggest that people like you are better off dead, that the question of whether or not to kill you is a morally complex issue, and not internalize that to some extent.
“But Stapleton’s daughter was violent! But McCabe was having money troubles!” people respond. “It was probably a really hard decision! What was she supposed to do?” And then the fear falls away and I just get mad. Because answering that question is not my job. It’s not any autistic person’s job to come up with an alternative to parents killing their disabled child. I refuse to have people who share my disability put on trial for their lives and I refuse to entertain the premise that the value of your life is inversely proportional to how “burdensome” you are.
I’m scared, and I’m angry, and I’m tired of reading about this. I’m tired of being afraid to read the comments on these stories because I know there will be someone fingerwagging anyone who condemns these people. I’m tired of mass media so feverishly obsessed with presenting everything as an issue with two coequal sides they’ll grant legitimacy to people like this. I’m tired of the utter dearth of autistic voices in the media when we are the people actually affected by this terrifying phenomenon. I’m so tired and so angry but mostly I’m tired.
#Real #Autism #Disabilities #Diversity #SocialJustice #Compassion #Kindness #RespectForLife #RespectForHumankind
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