Monday, September 8, 2014

Targeting Autism

I squinted at the screen and sipped my coffee, skimming the news stories of the day.  I always feel the need to check to see if the earth is still spinning.  If I ever find that it isn't, I'm going back to bed.  This morning I saw a headline about two teen age boys that targeted a young man who was different and beat him.  The man had done nothing wrong but his differences had been spotted and targeted.  The boys had given in to a very basic instinct of cruelty and pursued the young man on several occasions so that they could inflict pain.  Then they pridefully posted their exploits online.   This story comes just days after another news story reported a separate  group of teens who tricked a young man with autism into a degrading and dehumanizing situation in which he thought he would be participating in the ALS ice bucket challenge.  The peers he was with made him strip to his underwear and made a video of the young man being doused not with ice water but with a vile concoction of excrement and spit.  

It should be difficult for anyone to read news stories like this.  It has been difficult for us to digest these stories here too.  We have had to inform Isaac's sister, Eva, of the recent happenings.  She is in high school and the videos I have described have become viral.  I would rather she hear about this stuff from me.  I warn her when I read stories like this.  She is only 18 months younger than her brother and she has grown into an amazing combination of strength and sensitivity.  I hate having to keep her abreast of tales of cruelty.  She listens stoically and vulnerably.  I didn't know you could be both stoic and vulnerable until I had related one of these stories to her.  I have to tell her to be on guard for Isaac and for others that she will interact with at school.  Be kind to those who are different and who may be targeted.  Watch out for them.  Listen.  If you hear anyone bragging about this kind of idiocy, tell someone.  She nods.  Her experience as Isaac's sister is so very different mine as his mother.  I wonder at how she perceives all of this.  I am almost scared to know.

The severity of Isaac's autism relieves me.  These most recent accounts of cruelty have been directed at those who have much greater functionality than my son.  It is much more difficult for anyone to harm Isaac because he is always under adult supervision.  What an odd blessing.

My heart goes out to the victims and their families.  People with autism make the perfect targets. Their main struggles lie in the areas of socialization and communication.  What an amazing opportunity for bullies!  Here is a population that won't spot your devices and won't report you.  you don't get better than that.  They are so easy to target.  Parents have fought epic battles to have their children with autism included in typical classes.  Many families have spent thousands and thousands of hours and dollars teaching their children with autism how to approach peers, how to participate in a conversation and how to make a friend.  The thought that a typical peer would take an interest in a child with autism is thought of as a monumental event in the life of the whole family.  Everyone rejoices that this child who has struggled so much socially over the years might actually have a friend.   I cannot imagine the feelings that must be washing over the victims and their families.  Betrayal, Anger, Guilt, Hurt,.... I have learned that nothing can lay your soul so bare as to know that someone has hurt your child.

And yet, how very cowardly to choose this population.  These teens have chosen to target a group that cannot fight all.  Dear Lord in Heaven, what is growing this amount of hate?  How can that much darkness be quelled?

Hate grows hate and there is no weapon or curriculum or law or mandate that is strong enough to stamp it out.  The only cure is the decision of each individual to stand against it.  Your own decision to look beyond the differences and see the similarities...your decision to teach your children that there are always more similarities than differences....your realization that everyone is valuable...those flickers of hope and love shining together with the hope and love from so many others....that is the only stand we have as humanity against such cruelty.


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