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.