mental health, psychology, rants

I didn’t even know this was a thing…

Living in Germany for seven years has taken me out of the loop regarding certain American cultural mores. Like, for instance, Halloween etiquette. Germans are catching on to Halloween, but by and large, it’s not really a thing here. I do remember years past, when Bill and I were living in the United States. We would carve a jack o’ lantern (poorly) and wait for kids in cute costumes to ring the bell and yell “trick or treat!”. When we lived on Fort Belvoir, we would get dozens of kids on Halloween! But now, if we buy candy for Halloween, we mostly end up eating it ourselves.

Anyway, a friend of mine has three sons that she worked very hard for… When I say she “worked hard”, I mean it took a lot of effort for her to get, and stay, pregnant. She finally had a son and twin boys, and she’s really into raising them. We became friends at a time when I was also hoping to become a mother. I didn’t work as hard at it as she did, though.

One of my friends’ children has autism. I don’t know how high on the spectrum the lad is, but I do see his mom posting a lot about autism and the causes associated with it. Yesterday, she posted this image.

Wow… I wouldn’t have even known what to think if someone rang my bell and had a blue pumpkin bucket.

I think I had dimly heard of the teal candy bucket for kids with food allergies. I don’t think I ever knew anything about the blue buckets for people with autism. Either way, if someone comes to my house trick or treating, of course I’m going to give them candy. I can’t imagine why someone would give a person a hard time on a night that’s supposed to be about fun. I don’t even care if it’s an adult who’s got their hand out, looking for a sweet. Who cares? I also would never fat shame someone on Halloween– I do remember a few years ago, some woman getting in the news because she handed out fat shaming letters to fat kids on Halloween instead of giving them candy. That sucks!

But again, it’s been a long time since I last was expected to pass out any candy on October 31, and many of the places we’ve lived in the States haven’t been conducive to trick or treaters, anyway. In Georgia and North Carolina, we lived way out in the boonies and didn’t have many neighbors, and we never got Halloween visitors. So this is an issue I probably would have stayed ignorant to, if not for my online friend with a child who has autism.

I probably took more interest in the above post because I also recently got into it with a woman who is mutually friended to a lady I met on the Recovery from Mormonism message board. The woman who argued with me, took offense because I disagree with banning the word “retard”. I don’t think people should be using that word as an insult, but to ban it outright is a bridge too far, in my view. It has other meanings besides the insulting one.

In the course of that argument about why she thinks the word “retard” should be forbidden, the woman told me that one of my comments was “stupid”. I took that as hugely hypocritical and ended up blocking her, because she was being offensive and wasting my time. It seems to me that if a person doesn’t want to be insulted, they shouldn’t be insulting to others. But again, she said she has autism, and maybe people with autism lack the ability to practice what they preach. I honestly don’t know. I am ignorant on that topic.

I will totally admit that I don’t know much about autism. I probably would have known more if Bill had been able to raise his older daughter, who is reportedly on the spectrum. But the fact remains, I don’t know too much about this phenomenon… only that when I was growing up, we didn’t hear about it nearly as much as we do now. I’m sure it existed, and there were probably many undiagnosed people who had it and were trying to function in a world made for neurotypical people. Things seem to have been a lot more black and white when I was a kid.

Nowadays, it seems like everyone feels like all of the people in the world should automatically change their way of thinking and doing things. Many people seem to be loudly and aggressively demanding that change. Not surprisingly, they’re being met with resistance by people who don’t like to be told what to do. I’m not saying the change isn’t necessary. It often is. But expecting everyone and everything to change on a dime is unrealistic and unfair. Aside from that, people are going to occasionally fuck up and say or do something insensitive. That’s life.

I appreciate the people who feel the need to be educators and activists on the autism issue. I don’t mind being clued in on things I don’t know about. But I am a little bit confused about some things. First off– do people want special treatment or consideration because they have a certain disability? Or do they want to be treated like everyone else is treated? It seems to me that if they want to be treated like everyone else is treated, it’s not realistic to also expect special treatment.

If someone wants to be treated like everyone else is treated, autism or other issues must be irrelevant. Declaring a need for certain considerations means that a person isn’t like everyone else is. That doesn’t mean they’re not worthy of respect. It simply means that the person has special needs that need to be accommodated and, in fact, they aren’t like everyone else is. What’s wrong with that, as long the differences are handled with kindness, discretion, and sensitivity?

Secondly, do people want complete privacy? Or do they want special consideration because they have a certain condition? If they want privacy, how can they expect special consideration for a medical problem? If I don’t know anything about someone’s health challenges, how can I know what their needs are? How can I address them?

Take, for instance, the exchange I had last week with the woman who argued with me over disagreeing that the word “retard” should be banned. When she responded, she immediately qualified her first statement by saying, “I have autism.”

I thought to myself, “So?” So you have autism. Does that mean I don’t get to have an opinion about this? Like I said, I don’t know much about autism, but I do know that having it doesn’t mean a person has a poor intellect. Should I have felt sorry for her for having autism? Does it give her license to speak to me in any way she pleases? Or should I treat her the way I would treat anyone who aggressively attacks my opinions?

The woman who argued with me clearly was articulate enough. Do people routinely call her “retarded”? If so, that’s definitely wrong. But she’s obviously not someone with a slow intellect anyway. Based on what little I could tell about her, she should have been capable of understanding my point without attacking me and calling me “stupid”. We should have been able to have a calm discussion without her laying into me aggressively and sarcastically. Or is that not possible with a person who has autism? I honestly don’t know. If being unable to be respectful is a feature of autism, I hope someone will tell me. But even if it is a feature, how would I even know that a random person has autism if they don’t tell me? And if I don’t know, how can I give them special consideration?

I think everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and basic respect. That means giving people the benefit of the doubt if they disagree. Just because someone doesn’t share your views, that doesn’t necessarily always mean they’re a bad person or even in need of “education”. They might just have a different perspective, and maybe it’s one you’ve never even considered. Also, opinions aren’t facts. Everyone has a right to their opinions, but they should not be presented as facts.

My favorite color happens to be blue. When I was a child, I probably would have loved to have had a blue pumpkin as my candy bucket. And my mom, who wasn’t up on all the childhood trends, even in the early 1980s, probably would have bought it for me out of sheer ignorance. I would expect that if I went door to door looking for candy on Halloween night, the people in my neighborhood wouldn’t have given me any shit about having a blue pumpkin, but not having autism or some other disorder. It would not have been their business.

The comments on the original post about the blue pumpkin got pretty heated. I noticed some people were lauding the post, but others took huge issue with it. Things got pretty wild. Have a look.

Like I said, I don’t know much about autism. My guess, based on the above comments and my recent interaction with someone claiming to be autistic, is that people with autism are very sensitive about some things. I can see that none of the people commenting above have any issues with their intellects. They are all writing coherently and correctly. But they’ve all aggressively dog piled on this woman who disagreed with them, albeit in a rude and profane way, and are now engaging in some of the behavior that they were initially denouncing. I’ve seen similar behavior in other online discussions, particularly in military circles. I find this kind of behavior disturbing, and I highly doubt much came of this discussion, other than some raised adrenaline.

It seems to me that being kinder and less antagonistic would net better results than being accusatory and insulting… Yes, the first poster was wrong to say the post was “full of shit”, and she was wrong to write “only an idiot”. But then the mob descends upon her, questioning her parenting skills, saying she’s a poor example to her child, and making sweeping assessments of a perfect stranger’s character. It seems very hypocritical to me. What would have happened if most of them had responded in a calm, kind, and understanding manner, rather than resorting to lecturing, shaming, and insults of their own? But again, maybe this is a part of autism that I don’t know anything about. People with autism get to be shaming, but other people have to be “respectful” toward them.

In any case… I think the original poster, who’s been threatened with “banning”, should bow out of that group and find one that is less hostile. It doesn’t appear that she’s very welcome there, which is a shame. Maybe she DOES need to be educated. At the same time, the folks in the autism group are certainly right to try to educate people, but there’s a way to do so that won’t be alienating. Other people have the right to their opinions, too. And it’s hard to get anywhere in a discussion when it devolves into namecalling and insults. There’s no reason in the world why people in that group should have said such personally insulting things to a total stranger, even if the original poster did initially come off as rude and offensive.

And if people don’t want to be “outed” for having autism, perhaps they shouldn’t be using it as a pass for being so hostile and insulting to other people. I get wanting to be respected. Everybody wants that. But just because a person has autism or some other issue, that doesn’t give them the right to expect special consideration and engage in hypocrisy, particularly in an online interaction. I’ve found that people often mirror back to you what you put into the world. Besides that, everyone has challenges and difficulties. I don’t have autism, but people have been mean to me, too. I try not to let it get me down for too long.

That being said… anyone who knocks on my door on Halloween is welcome to candy, regardless of their age, weight, costume, or whether or not they say “trick or treat”. Because I don’t need any more presents for my ass.


11 thoughts on “I didn’t even know this was a thing…

  1. As the mother of an autistic adult, not everyone in the “community” speaks for all of them. There’s no written test or qualifications that you all for in lock-step with others when you are diagnosed with autism. Case in point: there’s a lot of push-back on using a puzzle piece as a representation of autism. I wanted to get a tattoo for my son, who loves Pokemon, so I suggested Pikachu and he said “Yeah, only make him like the puzzle pieces instead of yellow.” He’s not bothered by autism being represented as a puzzle piece. For one person to think they represent the entire community is one of the things that really bothers me.

    It has been around for a very long time. I had two friends growing up – both boys – who I am sure now were/are on the spectrum, and another now approaching 60 who’s a musical *genius* and was never diagnosed and has had a pretty rough life because there were no safeguards in place when his career took off. I think of other kids I knew in school who had trouble coping, and I think it was way more prevalent than we realized. That’s partially our schooling, though, everyone has to be educated in a cookie-cutter fashion.

    I can never remember people demanding someone say “trick or treat” and if someone had denied Danny candy cause he didn’t ask I would have given them what-for lol.

    • Thanks for the comment, Patti!

      Yeah, I guess the reason why I took notice of this post in the first place is that the original poster made it sound like the blue pumpkins were really causing kids to be mistreated. I can’t even fathom that, but then I am not in that world. I don’t have children and I have no experience with people who have autism.

      It just seems like the people posting on that photo felt there was a certain way that people should behave and respond. Everyone is different. The person who wrote that the post was “shit” was definitely rude, but it escalated more than it probably should have. I try to have empathy and respect for every person until they give me a reason not to. One sure way to make me less respectful is to come at me with aggression and disrespect.

      I wish I knew Bill’s older daughter. She could teach us a lot.

  2. Sadly, we in the United States live in a most uncivil and polarized society. And social media tends to make it seem worse.

    At least, that’s how it looks to me on this side of the Atlantic.

  3. Also, blue is also my favorite color! My birthstone is aquamarine, which happens to be my favorite shade of blue, which is followed by cerulean blue.

    Nice to see a fellow fan of the primary color!

  4. Between fulfilling my sub-internship in a pediatric neuro-psych clinic and fulfilling a general pediatric residency simultaneously along with my pediatric surgical residency and fellowship, I’ve had to devote significant time to patients with autism. it’s correct that, at this point, anyway, no one speaks for all people with autism. (Ex likes the term “autist,” but the more prevalent school of thought is that such terms lend credence to the idea that the disability is the sum of the person and not merely one of his or her many characteristics, and something we should be trying to avoid.) If a person has autism or is the parent of an autistic child, that person knows about his/her own or his/her child’s situation. It really doesn’t give the person expertise to speak for the group.

    If I had a child with autism, I wouldn’t publicly identify the child’s disability in any way.

    If I’m home for Halloween, I give candy to everyone who shows up at my door and hope that anyone who refuses to say “thank you” has a good reason for doing so. Life is too short for me to be worried about someone else’s imparting of manners to his or her offspring.

    At Quora, I got into an argument with someone over what should be done about a kid with autism when the OP had observed him cheating on three separate tests in two different classes. Another poster told the kid he should mind his own business and keep his mouth shut because it didn’t affect him in any way and because the autistic student faced challenges that others do not face. I disagreed and said that without knowing the teacher’s grading system, it couldn’t be concluded that grades of others in the class were not affected, and that a diagnosis of autism was not a license to cheat with impunity. My advice to the student was that he had every right to tell if he wanted to do so, but that he was not under any obligation to do so if he would prefer not to get involved. The other responder totally went after me, and gave ridiculous reasons why he shouldn’t rat out the cheating kid with autism, including that it’s possible that the autistic kid has an abusive stepparent who would beat the kid mercilessly for failing the test as a result of cheating. The responder was supposedly a contributing a columnist to reputable publications. I found it hard to believe after reading her response.

    What is your opinion? Are fellow students obligated to overlook cheating when it’s a student with a disability who is cheating?

    Alexis (I think I may be finally logged in.)

    • Hi Alexis! First off, do you really have a blog called Living Among Cows?

      As for reporting the cheating… I agree with you. Cheating is supposed to be wrong, isn’t it? Would we not report someone with autism for another crime? Is having autism an excuse to beat someone up or commit theft?

      And why does a stepparent have to be assumed abusive? I barely qualify as a stepmother myself, but I bet I would have been less abusive than Ex has been.

      • It looks like you might have been writing a story or something… were you really a special ed teacher in the public schools back in 2010?

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