I know that a couple of other bloggers have picked up on this story, and once again, Lizditz is compiling an excellent list of responses, from Storkdork, Kim Wombles, Terri Mauro, and other autism bloggers. However, I feel that I need to address this as well. As I posted on Kim Wombles' Countering AoA:
Smockity seems fixated on the fact that Grandma did not try to direct the girl's attention to books, backing up her assertion that the girl is being a spoiled brat because of this. She seems unable to understand that the highly-likely autistic girl was fixated on the computers, and would be unable to be distracted and even be upset by the interference.
In the comments for the post, I noticed that people remarked that it's possible that 1) the grandma is not the primary caregiver, and so is only following the guidelines the parents have set out to the best of her ability and 2) that this is a small step in a larger lesson in patience, and that interrupting the practical application of the lesson would hinder the girl's learning.
Personally, I think the girl has the lesson of patience down pat pretty well. Especially for a 4-5 year old.
I'm rather proud of the girl; she maintained appropriate behaviour. I don't care that Smockity thinks that she was being impatient; the girl was being very polite and not complaining about the wait (although, I suspect that her repeated patience comments were her version of "is it my turn yet?" hints).
Instead of making a tantrum, she politely tapped the other child on the shoulder, and did not get upset when refused. She maintained her coping stims, and waited in line. It's better manner than some NTs that I've seen.
Now that I have gotten my personal reaction to this out of the way, I wanted to examine this incident a little more.
April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day, and despite the involvement of Autism Speaks, the SMART Foundation and the National Autism Association (the last two being supporters of the vaccine-causes-autism myth), I would like to contribute a little and make perhaps a few comments.
I think that Smockity gives us an excellent example of some of the mild challenges that autistic people face today, coming from the problem of ignorance. In Smockity's case, ignorance over autism caused her to be snarky and judgmental towards the grandmother and girl.
This response is a fairly common concern for many parents of autistic people that I have encountered, with an underlining fear that the response may escalate to the point where autistic people, seniors, adults, teens and children, will be excluded from society. Parents share autistic people's fears of a prevalent historical attitude where people with "abnormalities" and particular disabilities are warehoused in institutions and special "schools", where various abuses can occur.
Currently, the disability movements are working towards abolishing the abusive practices used on disabled people, from new laws regarding restraints and seclusion, to getting the public to pay close attention to abusive shock therapy and in impact of being institutionalized on mental health. Looking at past experiences, many of them their own, activists work towards creating a safe place for disabled and autistic people to live and be a part of society.
There is no doubt in my mind that these are huge achievements in disability rights, however, there are also other present day-to-day concerns. For those who fears of institutionalization and abusive treatments are not quite as large a reality, there is the common struggle to interact with a society that still is very ignorant and insensitive to autism and disabled persons, especially people with "invisible" disabilities.
As much progress has been made in the past years to eliminate negative stigma surrounding disabilities and autism, there are those who are still unaware as to what autism and disabilities actually mean. The incident with Smockity is an example, one incident of many where parents encounter an autistic person and have no understanding to the autistic's behaviour and mannerisms. To many parents that I have seen respond, Smockity's reaction reflects their fears of how others are perceiving their children. To many autistics that I have seen express their outrage, her reaction represents the callous treatment they experienced throughout their lives, and continue to face even now.
The negative attitudes and stigma presents real obstacles to autistic and disabled persons and their families, not just a struggle to socially interact. Imagine, if you will, how difficult it is to gain support services if service employees are ignorant of the ways in which autism and various disabilities manifest, the wide diversity of strengths and weaknesses, combined with the various degrees of "functionality", and the unique supports needed for each individual. Imagine social workers who have no concept of disability beyond the strictest definition. Imagine, when convinced of being disabled, of providers who treat you with contempt, scorn, or pity, making you give up your sense of respect in order to get what you need. Imagine, in all the ways Smockity's reaction, contempt and mockery of the little girl and her grandmother in the library could have been avoided.
For some of us, we don't have to imagine: we live it, and struggle ever day to educate our support workers, friends and community not only to understand, but also to put a human face to autism and disabilities. Not only for ourselves, but also for the children, so that they can live happier, more community included lives.
For understanding when we go out into the world, for respect and compassion without pity when we need services, and for acceptance that we can be a part of society and humanity.
This is why, for the month of April and for every day of every year, I work the best I can with my abilities to increase autism awareness.