We’re Not Broken

If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, I highly recommend Eric Garcia’s new Book, We’re Not Broken: Changing the Autism Conversation. As the title suggests, it is devoted to changing the conversation about autism by debunking myths and describing lived experience. Very well researched and written, by a professional (autistic) journalist.

That said, this is kind of bad news for me. I’ve spent the last 8 years writing a book about autism and human rights in the U.S., and Garcia has really scooped me. I’m not giving up on my book–it does some things his doesn’t. But I had hoped to be the first on the market with many of the points he makes. Oh well. His book is great and deserves to make a big impact.

It Wasn’t Really Nice While It Lasted

Beloved daughter submitted her two-week notice of departure to her boss today. The job looked so promising, but it turned out to be horrible.

Childcare center. So they should care about the kids, right? Wrong–the other teachers just wanted to sit down and let the infants and toddlers fight it out in the middle of the room. Many bite marks and scrapes resulted. When daughter tried to introduce activities and engage the kids, the other teachers became hostile (too much work). The boss was only interested in saving money, so almost nothing you would expect was provided by the center. Kleenex? Paper towels to clean up after the kids? Diaper cream? Batteries for toys? Crayons? Tape? It all had to come out of the pockets of the seriously underpaid teachers.

The boss herself was a real piece of work. She lied to our daughter about what she would be doing, she lied to her about what her hiring bonus would be. (We have the flyer advertising the job–but the amount listed is not what she got.) The boss also lied to parents about what their kids were doing, how their kids were doing, who was teaching them, etc. My favorite lies are the ridiculous ones she told parents about my daughter, who is Chinese by birth. The boss told the Korean parents that my daughter was Korean, the Venezuelan parents that she was Venezuelan, the German parents that she was German! (I could not possibly make this up . . .)

The boss wanted my daughter to do as she was told, even if it meant hurting the kids–and that’s what BD refused to do. So she was criticized for insubordination. She has an auditory processing disorder, and had some trouble hearing the boss if all the kids were screaming. So the boss actually made her repeat back her instructions word for word, like my daughter was some sort of idiot.

The worst, though, was what led up to her resignation. The kids’ parents all loved my daughter, because their kids all loved her. So the boss, in an effort to exert control, reduced her hours with them, and assigned her to diaper changing rather than activities. And when the parents became enraged, the boss blamed my daughter, claiming she had “chosen” not to work with the kids, and was just “in a bad mood.” So there was a huge scene, daughter became overwhelmed, and gave her notice as soon as she got home. (With the full support of both parents, of course!)

And people wonder why autistic unemployment is so high.

If This Isn’t Discrimination, What Is?

So Tory Ridgeway was awarded a Navy ROTC scholarship to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University this spring. He was very excited, hoping to be the first military officer in his family.

But then the Embry-Riddle ROTC program discovered he was autistic. This was not something he had kept hidden—he wrote about it in his application to the school. Maybe they just never actually read his application?

In any case, they have just told him the offer was rescinded, because of his “developmental disorder”—in other words, not because he didn’t meet the qualifications, but simply because he was autistic.

Many autistics have served honorably in the military. Some have spent their whole lives in the service. But presumably they either didn’t know they were on the spectrum or were able to “mask” successfully.

It’s time for more autistic service members to “come out of the closet.” And it’s long past time for the Armed Forces to do the right thing for Tory and all the other young people out there who want to serve their country.

“Likeability”

I’m working on my chapter on employment and housing right now, and I’ve learned that “likeability” is a real Human Resources thing. People interviewing for jobs actually get rated on “likeability.” And according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, this is exacerbated by video interactions. Apparently, during video conferencing, likeability has more impact than persuasive arguments. And of course during the pandemic it’s all video.

How can this be anything but discrimination against people with autism who, by definition, struggle with social interaction?

The Spirit of Giving

Most of my stories tend to be a bit grim. But today is different.

There is a family in my town—a single mom and her autistic son. Every week they go to the grocery store and buy bologna from the nice lady at the deli counter, who always talks—to both of them. A few weeks ago, she asked the young man what he wanted for Christmas and he replied “a guitar.”

These are poor people. Chances are, the mom couldn’t afford any presents at all this year, let alone a guitar. And the nice lady at the deli counter was maybe just a little bit better off. She wasn’t going on any shopping spree.

But when the family came into the store this week, there was a gift waiting for them. The deli lady gave the young man her own, well-loved guitar. There is a picture of him, holding it and beaming, in our local paper.

This isn’t inspiration porn. This isn’t a story about benevolence granted from on high to the sad autistic person. This is a story about the true spirit of giving, about poor people, in this year of death and misery, being kind to one another.

For those of you who celebrate this holiday—Merry Christmas!

It’s Been a Hard Few Months

Which is why I haven’t written in a while.

Younger daughter, who developed lupus two years ago at age 19, had to take steroids for about 18 months to keep her immune system in check. The trouble is, the steroids created other problems. She developed cataracts in her eyes last spring, but we were able get them removed and her sight is now ok. More recently, she developed hip pain, which it turns out is caused by the steroids having killed off the bone in her upper leg. Now waiting to see the specialist, who will tell us whether they can fix this.

Older daughter (my autistic girl) triumphantly graduated from college in August, got herself a job and was doing very well.

And then came Covid. Her boyfriend, who thought the virus was a hoax, brought it home. He was mildly ill for three days. She’s been seriously ill for seven weeks now. (Just a few days ago her fever was 104.5). On Friday she had four hours of testing, to see whether her heart, lungs, or kidneys were seriously damaged. We don’t know when (or if) she’ll be able to go back to work. We don’t know when we’ll be able to see her or give her a hug. It’s been very hard for us, and unbelievably hard for her. But she has always been indefatigable (you can’t keep her down). She’s bounced back from so much. God willing, she’ll bounce back from this too.