Why It Matters
First they came for the Communists but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists but I was not one of them, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews but I was not Jewish so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.
This life has changed me. This fighting every day for and worrying every night about the future of my three autistic children. I worry about the challenges that they face daily with sensory issues, being overwhelmed in crowds, or just trying to communicate with other people. I worry about their physical health, of course – especially with everything we’ve been through with Mary. But more than all of that, I worry about the kind of world they are growing up in. I worry about how that world will treat them. They are “different,” and we don’t live in a world that values “different” nearly as much as it should.
Recently a friend posted a picture on facebook in support of Chic Fil A’s opposition to gay marriage. I’m not gay. But as soon as I read the posting, my hands started to shake. I was angry, hurt, insulted, and just plain disappointed in my friends – those who had posted and “liked” it. It was as though she had directly threatened my own children. (To be clear, as far as I know, my children are heterosexual – but they are 2,5, and 8 years old, so who really knows – and whatever path they travel will be fine with me, so long as they are happy. ) What it said to me was that these mothers of my son’s classmates are close-minded – that they don’t accept different as equal. It made me ill. These are the mothers of some of my son’s very best friends. Kids who’s opinions he really values. These boys have always been kind to my son, but I wonder now, as they get older, will their upbringing cause them to see him as different because of his autism? Will they then think that it is ok to exclude him because of his differences? Where does it end? If it is ok to teach your children that a group of people whose brains work “differently” from your own that they cannot live out their lives in a way that causes no harm to you, but fulfills them completely, where does that end? If a gay man or woman cannot marry the person that they love, does that also mean that my children may be denied rights because they are also different?
Recently, Joe Scarborough, an anchor on a nationally televised news show commented that the shooter in the recent Aurora, Colorado tragedy likely had autism. Whether or not he meant to incur the wrath of the entire autism community, he did. We, as autism mamas, have to be a bit more of the mama bear than most parents – we have to constantly be on the watch for hidden dangers to our children. As has been said time and time again, we must prepare our children for the world, but we must also prepare the world for our children. This means breaking down the barriers of prejudice and calling out those who condemn differences. This means getting up on a soapbox, even when it is not socially acceptable. It means patiently repeating to people that bigotry in any form will not be accepted in your presence.
It also means applauding the efforts of those who take a political risk in standing up for the rights of every person. It means supporting those who call out the bigots. It means making a concerted effort to include everyone in the conversation. It means teaching your children to love before they judge. If we want our children to grow up and be accepted not only by the autistic community (for which I am so grateful) but also by the wider community, it means leading by example.
So when someone makes a racial slur, or denies someone the right to marry the one person they love, or excludes someone from the conversation just because of a disability, or claims that freedom of speech means freedom to spread hate, it touches me personally – even if they didn’t think they were talking about me. I take it personally, because to me it is so very personal. To me, you are talking about my family, and there is nothing more personal than that.
Personal note: I grew up in a very inclusive Catholic Church Community in Boston, Massachusetts. While I no longer live there, the lessons I learned there of inclusivity, community, diversity and acceptance are lessons I have drawn strength from in my adult life. I was filled with hometown pride this week when friends and family started posting the following on Facebook.