Monday, 14 December 2015

The blog is over, but we still have shoes

Thank you to every person who contributed their time and energy to submit a post to this flash blog.

This flash blog arose out of the frustration of hearing "walk in their shoes before you judge them" in the context of yet another case of child abuse where the abuser has not been charged because the victim is autistic.

That's not the first time that we've been told that we have to walk in the shoes of the perpetrator. It's not the first time that we've been told that we shouldn't judge people who abuse or murder autistic people.

It won't be the last time, but next time, we have this: 15 separate posts show that Autistic people have shoes too.

This blog was largely inspired by a post from Radical Neurodivergence Speaking, and if you haven't read that yet, please take the time to do so.

The next time that one of us is murdered or abused, don't ask us to walk in the perpetrators shoes. Walk in ours. Walk in the victim's shoes.

The flash blog may be over, but we still walk in our shoes.

On a final note: here's a contribution from Ultimate Oddball

Parents, please let your children be odd.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Walk in OUR Shoes - Accountability

Submitted by Erin Schroeder; Originally published on Hands in Motion

[CN: Filicide, Abuse, and other various instances of Ableism]

When an Autistic child or an adult dependent is murdered by their parent or caregiver who should be held accountable?  This is a question I have to ask myself every time one of my brothers, sisters, or variations thereupon within the Autistic community is murdered, a tragedy that takes place far too frequently.  It is so very easy for me to lash out at the obvious target, the parent or caregiver who committed the murder, the person who stole from our community a life so very precious and disgraced it, but that would be too easy; to blame only the murderer is to let everyone else off the hook, it is to ignore the circumstances that lead up to the heinous act, and to let the guilty walk free.  When one of my peers, my family, is murdered, there are more people to blame then I can spare the time to count, from the people who laid the groundwork of fear and hatred and pity, to the people who ignored the warning signs and fed the murderer's sense of self righteousness, there are so many people to hold accountable. 

Far too often the ones who truly deserve to be held accountable, including the murderer, are pardoned, their actions treated as reasonable, merciful even, and the blame is shifted onto the ones who have suffered the most, the victim, and the community that fought for them.  Too often the victim is described as a burden, a hardship, an unimaginable grievance, one so horrible that to put up with them for even a moment makes a person into a hero, a saint, and gives them an excuse when they choose to steal that innocent life away.  Too often we in the community blame ourselves for the loss, counting ourselves as guilty for not having done enough to prevent a tragedy that we have faced so many times before, bearing the shame of having failed to protect one of our own, of having failed to recognize the signs, of having been distracted from the opportunity to intervene by our work elsewhere.  Too often Autistic people take the blame for our own murders and those of our community, while the people who deserve to be held accountable are showered in praise for their "brave" actions, their "kind" words, and their "touching" spread of hatred and fear.  Too often we are murdered and there is no one willing to rest the blame where it belongs.

If you are reading this from the perspective of someone who is not either a part of our community or a true ally to our community, then in all likelihood you are one of those who deserve to be held accountable.  If you ignored the warning signs, the martyr parent, the blatant abuse disguised as therapy, if you defended and supported these things, then you are accountable.  If you listened to the people who spoke over us, if you gave them the funds to bind and gag us, if you spoke of what heroes they were while they practiced eugenics against us, then you are accountable.  If you shared the article that poured praise upon a decent human being, if you wrote the story of the astounding achievement made by one of us when we "overcame" our own neurotype in order to do a fun activity, if you used kind words to strip us of our humanity, then you are accountable.  If you took part in the abuse, if you ignored us when we said no, if you told us who we are was wrong and forced us to act like you, if you restrained us and told us to use our words while we were so clearly shouting, if you stole our voice and our autonomy, then you are accountable.  If you sold the chemicals, if you praised the killing "cure," if you didn't report the poison that was offered, then you are accountable.  You are accountable for the pills forced down our throats, the guns held to our heads, the rags tied 'round our mouths, the water in our lungs, the scars we inflicted upon ourselves while grief stricken over the loss of yet another of our own, for all of that and more you are accountable.

When one of our own are murdered the media cajoles us, "you need to walk in their shoes," they insist, but not the victim's shoes, no, they would rather we walk in the murderer's, and in those of everyone else accountable for the tragedy.  The shoes of murderers are not shoes I wish to wear, nor are those of the others who must be held accountable, I would much rather walk in the shoes of the victims, the shoes of the innocent whose lives were taken without provocation, I would rather spend a year walking in their shoes than a day walking in a murderer's.  For once I want to see the general public walk in the shoes of the Autistic community, to empathize with the victims rather than the murderers, to grant us the dignity afforded to every non-disabled individual, that of being mourned when after death, rather than before.  It is a common lie that Autistic people are so self involved that we can't understand how others act towards us, and it's a lie that has excused the most horrendous of things, not the least of which is the fact that the public can't take a moment to empathize with us except for in one of those poorly made videos and games that are somehow meant to simulate the experience of being Autistic yet never come close.  Listen to our voices, acknowledge our existence, walk in our shoes, maybe then you'll stop condoning it when we are abused and murdered, maybe then I will no longer have to hold you accountable for every death I'm forced to mourn.

No Room for Ableism

Submitted by Christy Walk

[TW: ableism, Christian ableism, bullying, abuse, gaslighting, dismissing of feelings, filicide]

There is no room for ableism. It's time to start listening to our autistic voices. I am one of the autistic adults who is tired of the bigotry and ableism that has plagued the USA and the whole entire world itself. I am fed up with the way that we autistics are treated. Ableism is wrong and cruel. It's time to walk in our shoes and have society realize that we are human beings, too. We have feelings, we have a voice to be heard and we should be treated the way that we want to be treated.

I will not walk in the shoes of a Christian who tells me that I am not autistic. I will not walk in the shoes of Christians who clearly think that I have "divine health." I will certainly not walk in the shoes of people who ridicule autistic children and adults, and I will not walk in the shoes of people who think they can get away with ableism.

I am autistic, but that does not mean I'm dangerous or bad. And I don't like hurting other people at all. I love people as they love me. It's sad to see society view us as tragedies, pitiful people, burdens, and monsters. It's really cruel and disparaging.

I don't need pity because I'm proud of who I am. I don't need society telling me that I don't matter. I don't need any professing Christian tell me I have divine health just because I tell them I'm autistic. There is too much hate, discrimination and bigotry towards us autistic people. Ableism is what's wrong with this world, and with this country, and it's not acceptable.

My first stepdad was abusive towards me as a child. He pulled my hair and said some very disparaging things towards me. He didn't even let me hold my little brother when he was a baby. When I was in fourth grade a fifth grader called me names and bullied me, and in high school I had an aide who judged me for the way I smelled and looked, not to mention she also dismissed my feelings. Last month, on Thanksgiving, my little brother didn't even sit next to me.

I have seen stories of autistic people being murdered. I have also seen stories of mothers murdering their autistic children, or trying to murder them. Those stories really make me sad. They make me wonder why there's so much ableism in this world, and why we are discriminated against as autistic adults. Too many words of hate, too much ableism, and too much discrimination against autistic people, is really nauseating. Walk a mile in our shoes, because there's absolutely no room for ableism.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

I Die a Little Each Time One of Us Is Killed

Originally posted on Unstrange Mind
Marcus Feisel
A color photo of Marcus Fiesel. smiling
I remember the first time I became aware of it.
It’s been nine years now. Marcus would be twelve this year. A neighbor called him “an awesome little guy.”
He was three years old. He loved Bob the Builder, flowers, bubbles. His mother was being beaten by her boyfriend and when the police visited, they saw the house was filthy, was infested with fleas, smelled of feces.
His mother was so exhausted and depressed that a neighbor saw her openly weeping. Marcus had mysterious cuts and bruises. He was brought home by the police who found him wandering in busy traffic. His mother told the officers that she couldn’t take care of her three children any more. She handed them over to the state. She was trying to do the right thing for her children. She was trying to get them the care they deserved. She was making a smart choice, trying to save them from her abusive boyfriend.
Marcus was Autistic. He went to a school for children with disabilities and support needs. He was very active and had been caught crawling out of windows. He was the sort of child that parents call “a handful,” usually as they laugh lovingly . . . if they are not too abused and worn out to be able to laugh any more. His foster parents were poorly chosen.
Marcus Fiesel
a black and white photo of Marcus Fiesel, smiling.
David and Liz Carroll were keeping secrets that would have precluded them from being allowed to serve as foster parents if they were known. David had a medical record that would have excluded him. And the couple had another adult living in the home, Amy Baker. The Carrolls kept her a secret because they feared Lifeway for Youth would not approve of their polyamorous relationship and no longer allow them to be foster parents. In June, David was arrested for domestic violence. The charges were dropped and he never reported the arrest to Lifeway (although he was supposed to.)
The relationship between David and Liz was already rocky. David had left Liz because she wanted to be a foster parent and he didn’t. When he returned to Liz, he brought his new girlfriend, Amy, with him and forced Liz to accept an open relationship in exchange for him accepting foster children. Marcus’ mother thought she was doing the right thing when she let go of her children but Marcus ended up going to a home every bit as dangerous and unstable as the one he had left.
I would later learn that Marcus was a rare case — he was not abused and murdered for being Autistic. His foster parents treated all their foster children the same way. Marcus just happened to be the one who died. At the time, I didn’t yet know about the pattern of murders of Autistic children. Marcus was the first child I mourned. He haunts me still. I will always mourn Marcus.
David and Liz Carroll used to wrap their foster children up in blankets and duct tape and prop them in a playpen in the closet when they left town. Bradley Leach was in their care at the same time that Marcus Fiesel was. Bradley was wrapped in blankets and tape and left for hours. Years later, Bradley has intense nightmares in which he relives the trauma. Bradley is ten years old now. It could have been him instead of Marcus.
When David and Liz returned home from a weekend out of town, they unwrapped the blankets and found Marcus dead inside. He had overheated in the blankets on those hot August days. He was gone.
I followed the case with anguish. Marcus was Autistic so the whole thing really punched me in the gut. That is a metaphor, but it felt like a real punch to me. My friends already knew the pattern. It was new to me. The grief was raw and I had no idea that there was more to follow. I did not realize that three months later twelve year old Ulysses Stable would have his throat slit by his father. Or that a year later two year old Maxwell Eyer would be beaten to death by his father.
I couldn’t have foreseen teenaged Calista Springer, chained to her bed and left to burn when her family evacuated their burning home. Or another teenager, Courtney Wise, who was starved to death that same month. Or three year old Ethan Scott Kirby beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend, half a year after the deaths of the two girls.
Do you feel overwhelmed yet by all this violence? If you have a hard time reading, know that I am having a harder time writing. Please honor my pain by continuing to read. Please honor these dead children — and the hundreds more . . . thousands more . . . who were killed. Autistic children. Children like me. Perhaps children like you. Or children like your children.
The news stories kept coming and coming. Gassed. Decapitated. Thrown into the sea. Thrown off building ledges. Smothered in blankets. Fed bleach. Buckled into the car and driven into water to drown. And still the murders kept happening, the deaths kept coming, the grief was never-ending. So many lives snuffed out. So many futures ended by the very people who were meant to be helping those futures dawn as fruitfully as possible.
I can’t count them. Don’t make me count them. There are just too many. Their lifeless bodies pile up in my thoughts. The world feels a strange and hostile place. With each new murder, I forget the love and acceptance I have encountered and curl into a ball under a blanket, weeping for another life gone. I die a little each time one of us is killed. I am diminished, the snuffing of their lives chipping another piece from me until I fear there will be nothing left.
I have learned over the years that I must never read the comment sections on these news stories. Inevitably, predictably, the justifications come.
People comment on the news stories, saying we should not judge the parents who murder their children. They say we cannot possibly know how difficult it is to raise an Autistic child. “Walk in their shoes,” the commenters say, “and then you will understand.”
I do not want to walk in the shoes of murderers. I do not want to ever understand how a parent can take their child’s life.
But is anyone willing to walk in our shoes? Does anyone want to think about what it would be like to have a particular neurotype and see people like you being murdered by their own parents? Does anyone want to think about how hard it would be to go through those stretches where a murder of someone like you is reported every month, often more frequently? Can you possibly walk in the shoes we wear when we make the mistake of reading those comment sections only  to find dozens of people agreeing that folks like us are such a terrible burden that it’s understandable that our own parents would want to kill us?
These are not easy shoes to walk in. They are too small — they are always too small and they pinch and bind and cut into our feet so deeply that we bleed. The blood runs down inside the shoes where you can’t see it and people see the limping and tell us not to be such drama queens.
How are we supposed to react to these murders? What would be the acceptable, calm, well-measured response to the killings?
How would you respond if you kept seeing a pattern of people like you being killed by the people they should have been able to trust more than anyone in the world?
Because it is a pattern. I couldn’t see it all those years ago when I first mourned Marcus. But I’ve watched the subsequent killings, year after year and the patterns become clear. And I die a little bit more each time one of us is killed.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Not Pretty Enough

Submitted by Naomi from Respectfully Connected

There is this strange dichotomy when it comes to being autistic.

Especially if you are an opinionated autistic person. And anyone who knows me knows that opinionated is exactly the word to use.

You see, according to a lot of allistic (non autistic) people, autistic people seem to fall into two camps. The Quirky Aspie Genius, or the Non Verbal Forever Child.

Obviously, if you applied that to any other group of people, you’d see it was not only extremely offensive, but completely wrong. There is as much diversity and variation amongst autistic people as there are any other group of people. But it suits people to think in stereotypes, to make snap judgements about things that may only brush against the periphery of their lives. We all do it, although we should all also question it.

The problem with those two stereotypes when it comes to being an opinionated autistic is that then people who really should know better use them against you. People who don’t want to hear what you have to say, who have time or money or energy or ego invested in whatever status quo you are challenging.

Here’s how that works:

Say, as an example, that there is some rather craptastic article or meme going about that depicts autism or autistic people negatively. Bonus points if it is written about autistics without including them.

Say that in the comments section (the underbelly of the internet in way too many cases), there are lots of people supporting the view that yes, autism is terrible, or really hard or caused by aliens with carrots, or whatever is being spouted as the latest “cause”.

Most of those people will not be autistic. Most of those people will be parents of autistic people, or people who “know someone who is autistic/has an autistic cousin/met someone who touched an autistic person that one time”. You know how it goes.

Say now that autistic people try to join the conversation. To suggest that actually, their lives aren’t miserable, they are actually pretty happy, and would be even more so if people stopped acting like their very existence was an insult.

This is where it goes bad. Because you see, the majority of people still seem to think about autistic people as being in one of those two camps. And thanks to the insidiousness of functioning labels people still think that there is such a thing as being high functioning or low functioning, not realising that those labels can apply to the same person on the same day, about different areas of their life, that may change the next day, depending on how many spoons they’ve had to spend explaining that yes, they are actually entitled to an opinion about the value of their own existence… for example.

What that means for an opinionated autistic – and an opinionated autistic is basically every autistic person – is that you are put into one of two groups, and either way, your opinion is invalidated. If you’re considered a Quirky Aspie Genius, then you can’t possibly know what it is like to be “really” autistic (this is usually told to autistics by people who are not autistic at all, btw) and your opinion is not relevant, and your advocacy is only for other Quirky Aspie Geniuses. If you’re considered a Non Verbal Forever Child, well you can’t function well enough to really understand all the nuances and intricacies of being autistic (also told to autistic people by people who are not autistic), and by default aren’t capable of expressing your opinion, which would be irrelevant anyway, so….

Yeah, I know. There aren’t words to describe how horrendously offensive and dismissive either of those positions are.  

But that is where we sit. Despite the facts of our experiences. Despite the actual existence of autistic advocates who fit into both of those camps, or who fit neither (usually all at the same time). Despite everything we have to say, everything we have lived, the work we do, the thoughts we have, the effort we make to share ourselves with other autistic people and their loved ones.

We are still either too autistic and our opinions are ignored, or not autistic enough, and our opinions are ignored.

Which leaves us… nowhere.




Thursday, 10 December 2015

Seven pairs of shoes

Contributed by Briannon Lee; Originally published on Autistic Family Collective

[CN: Discusses cases of abuse and death]

An autistic student is locked in a purpose-built cage

I can not stop thinking about this 10 year-old child trapped behind blue metal bars. I imagine his school shoes and him pacing or rocking in them, stimming to cope with the stress. I imagine his feet would rather be running or jumping or spinning in those school shoes. I think he would be frightened.

Meanwhile, others comment about the need to manage challenging behaviour in a classroom and ‘control’ autistic students. People highlight the good educators and good schools we have.

“Walk in the Principal’s shoes,” they say. The Principal was given administrative duties, not fired.

A box was built to lock up autistic adults in a ‘day program’ for autistic people.

I can not stop imagining the autistic people who were made to paint a box they would be locked in. I picture the paint dripping on their shoes. I feel sick imagining myself locked in a box that I could not get out of, kicking the box with those same shoes.

Meanwhile, others comment about managing challenging behaviour, staff training, good people doing the best they can, parents needing respite services, and lack of funding.

Walk in parents and services providers shoes,” they say. Nobody was stood down and the seclusion box was not reported until a whistleblower brought the matter to the media.

An autistic student was locked in a small, boarded up room at school, up to 20 times.

I can not stop myself from imagining the terror and distress this 9 year-old felt left alone in a room he could not escape, with nothing to soothe himself. And so, I imagine him twisting the laces of his school shoes around and around his fingers, or lying on the mattress on the floor and kicking his shoes against the boarded up wall.

Meanwhile, others talk about how hard it is for teachers to balance everybody’s needs in a classroom, and how hard it is to teach autistic children. They write about ‘behaviour management’ and euphemistically call this terrifying experience ‘time out’.

“Walk in educator’s shoes,” they say. The teachers were not stood down or charged.

An autistic teenager was tied to a bed by their parent and left home alone.

I can not stop myself from thinking about the stress and fear this 16 year-old experienced being tied up with a chain by his parent and left while his mother went out. I wonder if he were wearing shoes, and if he thought of throwing them through the window or at the door to get attention when he was found

Meanwhile, others comment on the lack of services, and how hard it must be to parent an autistic child. Parents share details of their children’s worst days and how difficult it is to ‘control’ them.

Walk in her shoes,” they say.  The parent was not charged.

An autistic child is tortured and murdered by his parents

I can not even begin to imagine how the 11 year-old boy felt as the only people he could depend on for nurture and care, broke his spirit, neglected him, prevented him from stimming, tied him up, tortured him, and left him in a shed to die. A harrowing photograph is seared in my mind; of the chair the boy was tied to, the straps still there, and a pair of brown leather shoes at the base of the chair, never to be worn again.

Meanwhile, others comment about how hard it is ‘living with autism’, and how we need more services. If the parents had services, the child wouldn't have died, they claim.

Walk in parent’s shoes,” they say. The mother was charged with manslaughter, not murder. The stepfather has not yet been on trial.

An autistic child is missing, he has drowned.

I can not stop thinking about this 3 year-old boy, who was staying overnight in unsafe insecure accommodation with parents who were too affected by substances to be woken. I imagine him waking in an unfamiliar house with parents who would not wake, and a bedroom door he could not open. I imagine he feels overwhelmed and trapped. He climbs out the window and walks shoeless away from his family.

Meanwhile, others give evidence at his Inquest about the difficulties parenting this three year old child, dealing with his challenging behaviours including ‘escaping’. They don’t ask what he was escaping.

They walked in the parents shoes.  The Coroner recommended safety checklists and GPS devices for families and offered no adverse comments about anyone involved in the child’s care.

Two young autistic children are allegedly bruised and traumatised at an early learning centre for autistic children.

I can not stop myself from thinking how distressed these children felt being held so hard they had bruises and cried for three hours, away from their parents and safety of home. I wonder if they were wearing their shoes when they experienced ‘full physical prompt’ during toilet training, and who comforted them when they cried?

Meanwhile, others are outraged that the parents reported their concerns to the police, taking a ‘complaint’ outside the privacy of the service, potentially damaging its reputation.

Walk in the educator’s shoes,” they say. The staff voluntarily took leave, the service has employed lawyers and are denying wrongdoing.
seven pairs of shoes Briannon Lee Autistic Family Collective
Image is a photograph of seven pairs of shoes of various sizes and styles with text on the image "Briannon Lee - Autistic Family Collective"

These seven stories of abuse were reported in three months in Australia. Seven pairs of shoes in a sea of thousands of people with disability abused and murdered around the world.

The pattern is clear. You have read this far, so I know you see it…

Empathy lies with the abuser. Our community protects individuals who hurt autistic people. We exonerate them, and demand people walk in their shoes. Our community allows organisations that trample on the human rights of autistic people to sweep abuse under the carpet. We believe the good schools and charities provide for some, justifies ignoring the harm they inflict on others.

When our community does this, we tell autistic people that they do not have human rights, and they do not have value or dignity. We accept that neglect, restraint, seclusion, torture, abuse, and murder happen to people with disability because autistic people are a problem, a burden, and a list of deficits and challenges.

This pattern is not new. Australia has a history of wilfully harming whole generations of people. The Stolen Generations, Forgotten Australians and those appearing at our child abuse Royal Commission tell stories of personal, cultural and community trauma inflicted while we did nothing.

How many People with Disability have been murdered, tortured, traumatised and broken while we stood by and protected abusers. While we said ‘Walk in their shoes’?

I am autistic and so are my children. My friends are autistic. It is time that Australia tries on our shoes.

Stomping, angry, tired, hurt, resilient, dancing, spinning, rolling, stimming shoes. Shoes for human beings with human dignity and worth.

Each pair has a story.

Next time you hear a media report about neglect, violence or abuse of a person with disability, I ask you to close your eyes and imagine the victim’s shoes. Their actual shoes. Imagine how those shoes feel. Imagine wearing those shoes and carrying the impacts of that event for the rest of your life.

Don’t defend our abusers. Don’t protect structures that hurt us. Don’t walk in their shoes.

Try on ours.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Shoes don't excuse behaviour

Originally published on Un-Boxed Brain

[Content Note: filicide, abusive therapies]

Recently, a friend published an article in The Huffington Post that points out that parents, the media and "awareness!" organisations (scare quotes intentional) tend to say overwhelmingly negative things about raising autistic children, and, of course, someone decided to comment on her article saying 'walk in my shoes'.

This shoes comment comes up so often. Neurodivergent K has addressed it before, and her post will probably be far more eloquent than my take on it, but here's my take anyway.

Walk in my shoes appears to have become some sort of excuse that allows people to behave appallingly. Walk in their shoes excuses the murderers of autistic children. Walk in our shoes excuses parents from being accountable for subjecting their children to unethical, unnecessary and abusive 'therapies'.

Except, it really doesn't.

Everyone has shoes that they walk in. Some people do face incredible challenges in their lives, but that does not give them an excuse to infringe on the rights of others. It is never okay to use your shoes as an excuse for murder. It is never okay to use your shoes as an excuse for writing about your child's incredibly private moments for all the world to see. It is never okay to use your shoes to say nasty things about autistic people, and particularly your autistic children.

I'm not claiming to be perfect. I try my best to not offend anyone, but sometimes I do so inadvertently, but I would never consider trying to justify my offensive behaviour because there is no justification for that. 

My shoes have varied over the years. Sometimes, they have been comfortable and sometimes they haven't. But, my shoes will never ever be the reason that I think that murder is justifiable. My shoes will never ever be the reason that I think that disrespecting my child's right to privacy is justifiable. Nor will my shoes ever be used to justify infringing on the rights of others.

This is not about judgement - or maybe it is? I think everyone can be allowed to do what they want without being judged - unless (and this is an important unless) they do something that hurts someone else, or infringes on the rights of another person.

My final note on shoes: We all have shoes but you don't get to hold yours up to excuse your behaviour when you're hurting someone else.
Image is a word meme which says "We all have shoes but you don't get to hold yours up to excuse your behaviour when you're hurting someone else."