Posted in musings

internalized ableism

Sometimes the things we hate the most are things inside ourselves.

If you’ve read the Harry Potter series, you may remember the story of Dumbledore’s younger sister Ariana, who was unable to acknowledge or accept her own magical abilities after a traumatizing encounter at a young age. Because of her experience, she began to see her magic as something freaky, abnormal, disgusting, or fearsome – so she tried to conceal it, control it, eradicate it. But it was a part of who she was, and for all her attempts it would still come bursting out, wild and uncontrolled, in moments of high stress or emotion. And through trying to bury her magic, she was never able to reach the heights of power and beauty that she would otherwise have been capable of: her own self-hatred, shaped by the fear and disgust of others, held her back.

The movie Frozen tells a similar story. Elsa tries for years to lock in her power, controlling it only in the sense of never using it and never letting anyone know it exists – but she has to isolate herself to do so, locking herself away just as she tries to lock her power away, and when circumstances intensify, her power is revealed in erratic, wild, dangerous ways. And because of all those years of the people she loved and trusted most telling her not to use her power, to hide it, to control it, she is (at first, anyway) unable to see the beauty and potential of it. She is swamped by feelings of her own inadequacy and monstrosity, believing the lies of the disgusted and fearful crowds.

This is what internalized ableism looks like.

This is how it feels to believe that a part of you is broken or inadequate or shameful, that something about yourself should be hidden and controlled and never talked about, that something central to the core of your being is something normal people are right to be afraid of or disgusted by. This is what it looks like to shut down your abilities because they are different than other people’s abilities and they make you stand out in an uncomfortable way – to deny the fullness of who you are in a futile attempt to just blend in and meet the expectations of normalcy. It can lead to anxiety or depression: to a fear of rejection, perhaps, a fear of being revealed as some sort of unlovable freak or incompetent imposter. It can lead to resentment of or contempt for those who are open about their differences – maybe there is a bit of jealousy there: that someone else is able to live without shame into the fullness of the abilities God gave them, without the constant self-hatred and fear; or that someone else gets to inconvenience everyone with their needs while you have to suck it up and pretend your needs don’t exist because you don’t want to be the abnormal monstrous burden that your ableism tells you that you are.

It gets a bit emotionally convoluted, in case you couldn’t tell 🙂

And the worst part is that it is so hard to see it in yourself, and so hard to change it once you do. Shifting your paradigm about the world and your place in it feels like repeating a lie, over and and over again, in an attempt to make it true. Different is not less, over and over again. My needs do not detract from the value of my personhood, over and over again. Having areas of weakness does not mean I am incompetent and lazy, over and over again. Asking for help does not mean I am a failure, over and over again. My success, and my path to it, might not look normal, and that is ok – over and over again. Maybe if the new thoughts get repeated enough they can beat down the ascendancy of the old negative ones.

Ariana never had the chance; she died before she was able to heal, if she ever would have been able to anyway. But Elsa – by the end of her story she is beginning to learn, beginning to accept herself with her differences, not despite them. She is beginning to see the extra beauty the world can hold because of the differences of the people in it, no matter how abnormal or debilitating their abilities may seem at first. She is beginning to focus on what she can do instead of trying – and failing – to act just like everyone else, and in so doing is able to fill a unique place in her community instead of staying isolated and hurting.

We all have something to give, and we all have strengths and abilities we can develop, and we hurt ourselves most of all when we believe the lies that say our differences make us less or that we should be ashamed of our weaknesses and needs. Society has enough contempt for the disabled and the neurodivergent; why should we add to it with our own self-hatred?

 

Posted in family life, musings

parental ableism

It is hard to be a child. It is hard to be a parent.

It is harder still to be a child with a disability – to be noticeably different from the world while still having to find a way to live in it, to be growing and developing on a different timeline and watching younger friends and siblings attaining higher skills, to be unable to participate in “normal” activities and events. And it can be harder to be the parent of a different child as well: there is the pain of seeing your child left behind, isolated, excluded; there is the sorrow of knowing certain paths are closed for them; there is the hurt of watching them hurt, physically or mentally, because of their condition.

Anyone who denies that parenthood can be difficult is delusional, but in the autism world there is a subset of parents who twist their children’s difference into a curse, who portray themselves as martyrs and who thus by implication make themselves out to be the victims of their children’s autism (and, since autism is an integral part of a person, victims of their children). I haven’t had much contact with these parents, and I am not sure how large of a group they are though I have read about them often on neurodiversity advocacy websites, so I didn’t have the inoculation of experience to protect me when I opened up Pinterest and saw this image at the top of my home page:

badparent
White words on a gray background: “I have a child with Autism. Everybody sees his struggles, but nobody sees mine. It’s hard to be screamed, yell at, every single day. It’s exhausting listening to him cry every single day.”

This parent is clearly feeling resentful of their child. They see their son struggling, and instead of responding with compassion they just resent the burden that those struggles impose upon them as the parent. (So while they “see” their son’s struggles it doesn’t seem like they are knowing and understanding their son in his struggles.)

Well guess what?

Your son didn’t ask to have a parent who doesn’t want to hear his tears with love, or to help make his environment safer and more accepting so that he’s not continually triggered to tears and screams, or to view him with compassion and understanding.

Your son didn’t ask to be born autistic in a world that values normalcy and conformity, especially in children, who are expected to walk in obedient lockstep through the typical developmental stages and the standard grades of school.

And I can guarantee you that your son doesn’t want to scream and yell at you all day long. Every child – yes, even autistic children – want to have a relationship of peace and love with the people that they are most closely tied to. His behavior is how he is communicating to you that something in his life is horribly, terribly, wrong. He could be non-verbal and in physical pain he doesn’t know how to communicate or address (like my friend’s son often is). He could be overwhelmed by an uncomfortable sound or smell or feeling, and be unable to handle that sensory input on its own or in conjunction with some other social trigger (like my son often is). He could be in ABA training for hours each day and have no other way to tell you that it is sucking the life out of him to be forced into a neurotypical box where he knows he will always fail and always be judged.

Maybe you, as the adult in this relationship, need to address the anger issues you have with your son’s autism before blaming him for the way you are reacting to his attempts to communicate with you. I understand that things can be hard, but it is never appropriate to shame your child for his struggles on the most public forum possible (the Internet), and it is incredibly immature to add to that by insinuating that your struggles are all due to his inability to be a normal child, that you are some sort of martyr for putting up with him. Get the support you need, and check your attitude, in a private community where your child’s dignity can be protected and respected.

goodparent
White words on an orange background: “AUTISM. When I have a hard day I know he’s had it harder.”

I love this second image so much because it acknowledges that both parents and children will struggle without victimizing either of them, without an attitude of resentment towards either of them, and with respect and tenderness towards both of them. (And it puts it so gently too!)

Like I said above, the hard and difficult behavior of a child, especially a child on the spectrum, and even more especially a non-verbal child, is a method of communication. Their needs and wants and struggles will show up in the way they act, and while their behaviors may be particularly challenging for a parent to deal with, they are a symptom of something deeper that is wrong.

And if you are that parent, faced with those challenging behaviors, feeling at the end of your rope, unsupported in your own struggles, please find help, and please do not blame your child or their autism for your struggles. Honestly, blaming anything only leads to more resentment. Try to see those behaviors as a clue to finding the best way to support and help your child. Try to see your child as fully human and fully deserving of respect and dignity despite their struggles and the struggles you have as their parent. And try to remember that no matter how hard your day is – as a neurotypical adult in a world set up for the way you operate – that your child’s day – as a neurodivergent child in a world foreign and alien to the way they operate – was almost certainly harder.