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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Walk for Autism

Bubs 2 couldn't hang
Bubs 1, 2, their mom and I recently walked to support autism. Autism Speaks was the nonprofit that organized this walk. Bubs 1 walked the entire way, while Bubs 2 rode (and slept) in the jogger/stroller. We walked in teams. We walked with Bubs 1's Occupational Therapist's team and had a fun time. The bubs' mom raised almost $250 for the nonprofit.

Bubs 1 and mom walking
We knew about the controversy that surrounded this nonprofit prior to the walk. Apparently, this group uses language, which many individuals with Autism and parents of children with Autism, find offensive. I happened upon a blog while searching the Internet for this discussion on the language issue. I read this writer's comment, "... and I do not want my children, when they're older, to feel that they are diseased or poisoned or otherwise flawed, and it will be hard for them to escape that message given the common perceptions of autism in our society..." and instantly thought about Bubs 1's future perception of himself. How crazy would it be to consider this walk detrimental to those individuals on the spectrum? It would depend on how influential you think language is in our society. It's a deeper understanding than just simply dismissing that idea by stating that the walk is only guilty of raising awareness of ASD. The message I took away from this walk is that ASD is larger than commonly aware in our society, but more to the blogger's point, the walk helped perpetuate the notion that individuals with ASD are different from others, rather than promoting the opposite. We're all human beings, right? There is a discourse out there that says individuals with ASD cannot operate in society. Why not addressing the limits that society constructs and erase these invisible lines of demarcation? There's no need to point out the differences, because those "differences" are a social construction being misinterpreted as biological fact.
Another statistic

I'll be sure to teach both bubs about the construction of language and how power influences a culture's words. I'll also be sure to point out how a dominant culture's language tends to label, categorize and also dismiss cultureal norms outside of the mainstream culture.

Positioned stats along the walk
As both bubs grow and participate in the multiple social institutions they're going to be more and more submersed into the mainstream language (and its knowledge). We'll discuss the rules that will affect their lives. They'll likely question some of them and not others. We'll dig deep into the reasons why some of these rules were constructed. From there, we'll figure out who benefits from these rules, if anyone does at all. It'll be fun to deconstruct the world around us in order to better understand it. This will empower them to be more informed information consumers, which will help prevent them from being misled or unjustily influenced. I make it my job to share this education with them.

Bubs 1 and mom walking
Bubs 1 waves to a cow
Why do I want to do this? As a kid, who grew up with Type 1 Diabetes and I understand what it is like to exist on the periphery of the mainstream. For a long time, up until relatively recently, I wasn't even aware that I was on the fringe. I wasn't aware that my disease had a constructed discourse interpreting it. I simply assumed it all to be scientific "facts." I was different, according to the mainstream. I had no reason to disagree since I was surrounded by this common discourse. I ended up forging a life where I was different. It was subtle in some instances, and huge in others. Necessary? No. My school was the first social institution that reconstructed society and trained me to be different. For example, in elementary and middle school teachers and administrators told me to eat my mid-morning snack in the nurse's office because food was not allowed in the classroom. They were afraid of introducing my diabetic condition into the mainstream, because assimilation was more important. They decided to hide me, which I interpreted to mean that I should keep this disease quiet. And that's what I did. That's how I operated my life. The unconscious turmoil/conflict was never identified and dealt with. Rather, it just came out as low self esteem.
Ocean background

The bubs lives in a different world today. Medical conditions are typically well explained to students in the classrooms - not hidden. I've witnessed many medical conditions addressed inside the classroom when I was observing and student teaching inside classrooms.

Kids understand more than we give them credit for.

Censorship is never the answer and Autism Speaks doesn't act like my school's officials did. In fact, AS does just the opposite. Autism Speaks held a walk and promoted the statistics that describe how many people are different in our society. It's a paradigm shift to think of the limits society places on the mainstream. Instead, we've been trained to point out the individuals who differ. AS falls short of erasing these invisible lines.

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