My thoughts on the recent “poison pen” letter in Canada

Earlier this week, it emerged that a woman who looks after her thirteen year old autistic grandson three to four times a week while his parents are at work was sent the typed equivalent of a “poison pen” letter. The language in the letter was disgusting and the attitude even more so. (Link to article below). This article includes excerpts of the letter but does not include it in its entirety but it is going around Facebook and I’m sure most people have seen it by now.

http://edition.cnn.com/2013/08/21/world/americas/canada-autistic-letter

In the online autistic community, in particular, there were calls to make this a hate crime-the writer of the letter uses the insulting terms “retard” and “idiot” to describe Max and suggests that he should be euthanised and his “non retarded body parts” should be donated to science. In between these two statements is a bigoted diatribe about how he is worthless to society as he will never get a job or marry, as if these two things are a prerequisite to having something to offer to society when, in fact, his humanity does this. There are plenty of people without autism who remain single throughout adulthood and there are also plenty of people, autistic and not, who are unemployed. Someones employment or relationship status does not affect what they have to offer to society.

The police in Canada have said that this doesn’t fall under the category of hate crime. To me, this makes no sense. The letter writer made it plain that the reason she was sending the letter was because of Max’s condition. She wrote that other noises are “normal” in a residential neighbourhood and that he isn’t. Children without autism can be very noisy too-is their noise tolerated more because they can form words? The writer is completely ignorant and doesn’t want to open her mind to why Max is making these vocalisations. He may be a nature lover and is expressing his happiness at everything he sees around him. He may be hungry or frustrated at something. This is his form of communication and that should be recognised and not treated simply as “noise pollution”.

I guess, to me, what this letter symbolises is that a small, but large enough to be frightening, minority of people have no respect for the lives of autistic people. This woman, in particular, appears to have a belief that Max should not be entitled to have fun outdoors like other children. She complains that he scares her “normal” children. Whereas most parents would probably take that opportunity to sit their children down and explain that Max has a disability and that it is nothing to be scared of, this mother takes it upon herself to instead blame Max’s grandmother for letting him out of the house. He is a thirteen year old boy in the middle of the summer holidays-surely playing out in the garden is the most natural thing to do at his age. Keeping him in because the neighbours are so cruel about the vocalisations he makes only serves to entrench the discrimination he faces as well as being unfair on him. It’s people like the writer of this letter that make life so hard for autistic people and their families. A little compassion and basic human decency goes a long way in improving these people’s lives.

Autism is nothing to be scared of and the attitude that it is something to fear is, in part, what leads to the deaths of some of these children (see the Autism Memorial page linked to on the right hand side of this blog). Certain people seem to view those with autism as somehow less than human. People with autism deserve the same chances and treatment as everybody else in life-their autism does NOT make them inferior to other people. If everybody had this positive attitude about autism, the disabling effect of it would not be as severe. It’s people’s attitudes that affect the lives of autistic people and their families the most-it’s the sneer of people in the supermarket when a child with autism experiences a meltdown due to the sheer overwhelming of all the senses (what is known as sensory overload) to which someone inevitably says, “That child’s spoiled! You just need to discipline them!” I have known people with autism who were educated in mainstream schools who were told by teachers that they needed to “fit in” with their peers more to avoid being bullied, effectively telling them that it was their fault because they were too “different”. People need to open their minds about autism. Considering that people without autism are supposed to be better than us at the whole empathy thing, the attitude of some people towards those with autism is shocking and appalling!

I leave you with a poignant quote from one of the autism groups on Facebook (I can’t take any credit for it), “In the age of information, ignorance is a choice”.

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4 Responses to My thoughts on the recent “poison pen” letter in Canada

  1. karo73 says:

    Reblogged this on karosyrup and commented:
    My thoughts have swirled around this “poison letter” that was recently released throughout all the social media sites. I was in utter shock that a mother could pen such hateful words about another child.
    Being a mom myself with a child on the spectrum I had a huge sense to fight back. What did this mom truly know. I’m also a therapist who has worked with special needs students for over 19 years. I just never even imagined that such hate could exist against those who were born into this world without a choice of who they were designed to be.

    My family is extremely lucky as we have a child with very mild aspergers. To most that have experienced time with my son all they might have experienced is my son seeming a little rude, or being able to tell you all the facts about his beloved guinea pig. This letter reminded me of how easy we live. We have family, friends, and a church community that offer us support. But even with all the support we can still feel frustrated and alone. It makes me realize how isolated families can feel that don’t have the support of their community.

    As I sat and thought about how the authorities should handle this mom, I thought about how much I would love to sit and explain to her all the ways she is so wrong. Maybe even make her suffer a little. Make her experience a day with one of her children as an autistic child.

    BUT that would never fix what she and many other secretly believe. There must be a better way.

    I truly believe this mom wrote out of fear and ignorance. Understanding those with special needs is a complicated and many times scary experience. I remember back in my early days of starting to work in the Occupational Therapy field, I worked in a residential facility that housed students age 6-22. Each day I went to work I never really knew what to expect. We were trained in helping students in crisis. I was lucky, there were only a few times I ever had to assist in a serious out of control disabled child. Most of the times the system we used was calming and helped a child deescalate quickly. But I got plenty of bites, scratches, hits, and hair pulls. It was a hard job, but I loved what I did because showing love to all was my mission.

    Experiencing an out of control child, I can understand someone’s fear of being around a child with autism (now remember not all child with autism have these types of episodes). That yelling, screaming, hitting kid can certainly make someone want to run the other way. But that caregiver can’t RUN, they are responsible for that child. And unless they choose to hand the child over to the state they will have a lifetime of feeling isolated, scared, and unloved. How can we help these families catch a break???

    I share this post in the hopes that others that live a life with a “normal” child can start to realize how these special families need your love and support. They certainly don’t need hate filled letters, but in reality you ignoring is just as painful. They NEED HELP!!!

    They need support in a million different ways! Think of how you might help a neighbor who just had a surgery or scary diagnosis. A simple dinner, a card, stopping by to just check in. All these ways are perfect ways to show you care!!! And over time as you learn to care for this family, you will start to understand their daily challenges. Stop judging those that struggle, because truly they should be given awards for sticking by their children through the good and bad.

    I pray for this mom in Canada. I pray that she can get past her ignorance of Autism and those less fortunate that don’t have “perfect” children. That she is exposed to some sensitive training. That whatever pain she has in her life, she can be healed from. BUT my true prayer is that all the discussion on this “poison letter” can open the doors in neighborhoods so that these families can get the support and love they so desperately need.

    *** thank you sjmarsh for helping the world see through the eyes of someone with Aspergers. It truly is a blessing to this mom!

  2. sjmarsh2013 says:

    Thank you, karo73. I am glad that my blog has been of some help to you xx

  3. Ellie says:

    Wow, that woman deserves a slap in the face… or maybe she should be euthanised and we can examine her stupid brain!

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