Showing posts with label internet crap. Show all posts
Showing posts with label internet crap. Show all posts

September 16, 2013

The Things We Do Not Say

Today at Support for Special Needs:
For parent advocates, there are rules now, I am told, for the things that we can and cannot say. Break those rules, and we are dehumanizing the very people we profess to love. Say the things we are not supposed to say now, and we are causing harm. Express the things we are told not to say, and we demonstrate that our love for our kids isn't real.

August 26, 2013

The Outrage Machine

Today, at Support for Special Needs:
If there's anything that social media seems to do the most easily, it is to serve as a great machine, churning and huffing, with gears grinding day and night. And the product the machine produces and replicates and reproduces relentlessly is outrage. Facebook and Twitter serve as its two greatest cogs, but the Outrage Machine is complex. And god, is it efficient.

July 15, 2013

Of Tribes and Truths

Today at Support for Special Needs:
I watch the disability community again and again choose to address its issues by forming up into circular firing squads and shooting each other in the face with breathtaking zeal. I imagine the policy makers and the school administrators and the everyday citizens with no exposure to our lives and our worlds. I imagine them watching our infighting and our persistent dedication to choosing the low road, and instead of pondering the issues that are of importance to this community, they might simply conclude "Wow, what a bunch of assholes."

February 18, 2013

Alone on a Crowded Sea

‎Today, at Support for Special Needs:

"I once believed that a larger sense of community would benefit us all, that the rising tide raises all the boats, etc. I don't think I believe that anymore, not entirely. The Internet makes it feel like there are a lot of us in the same boat, but perhaps it's more like there are a great many little boats bobbing around in the same dark sea. And perhaps that's the best we can hope for. Tend your little boat, and find the friends with who you can tie onto for a time and help each other."

October 23, 2012

Just a Word: Election Edition

It's election season in the United States. This is a very special time for the people of this country, an opportunity to come together to soberly and with much reflection choose the fellow citizens in whom we trust to lead our nation into an uncertain future.

It's a time to explore our differences, of course, but also to celebrate the process of peaceful transition, of the theory of democracy made real. In this season, it is possible to experience the essence of American citizenship and the dignity and majesty of our system of government, based as it is on the strength and goodness of community.

In that spirit of civil discourse, I give you the post-debate words of author, pundit and self-proclaimed patriot Ann Coulter.



Having gotten everyone's attention, she later doubled down. (Beautifully, she did so as a way of calling out the president for insensitivity.)



Charming.

Look. I've written about this in the past, about how some people use this word because they are ignorant, and others because it's good for an easy laugh. And I have never ever said that no one has the right to use it. I've never advocated banning a word, even if that was even possible. In a way, I'd almost rather prefer that the people who want to use it actually do so. It's a quick identifier, a kind of vocabulary profiling, a little red flag that tells me a lot about the person before I invest a great deal of time taking them seriously.

Also, as I've made clear before, I have been extremely guilty of using that word in the past. I didn't necessarily get smarter since then, but through my own life experience and through the extraordinary people I've met as a result of advocating for Schuyler, I think I might have become a little wiser. Certainly more sensitive, although like most people, I have a long way to go. Still, I freely acknowledge that when it comes to speaking out against using the "R word", I am very much Nixon going to China.

Where Ann Coulter is concerned, the first thing we must do is take ignorance off the table. As noted in a post on Sprocket Ink, Coulter graduated cum laude from Cornell with a B.A. in history, and received her J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School, where she edited the Michigan Law Review.

When she uses this word to insult the president and liberals, Ann Coulter is making a choice. It's a very calculated choice, too. She knows that people will be upset by her language, but more importantly, she knows exactly WHO will be upset. When contacted about her use of the so-called "R word" in her tweet yesterday, Coulter replied, "The only people who will be offended are too retarded to understand it."

Ann Coulter knows who will be upset, and she knows who will be thrilled. I've worked in a book store; I have a pretty good idea of the people who buy her books. Either way, she's playing to her audience.

And like every other public figure who has used this term loudly and proudly, Ann Coulter has spared not a single thought for those whom she hurts. People like my daughter aren't on her scope. People like my family don't matter. Human beings with developmental disabilities have so very little political power, and fight so hard for what scraps they have. Are they even human beings at all? Don't ask Ann Coulter.

For those with developmental disabilities who can stand up for themselves, and for those of us who care for and love and most of all strive to protect and build a better world for those whom the likes of Ann Coulter would reduce to a vicious punchline, the fight falls at our feet. Not to stop people like Coulter from expressing their opinions. Not to silence them. As I said, if anything, I prefer that they stand in the light when they make these statements. Given the choice of knowing that there are roaches skittering around my kitchen at night (note: I'm being metaphorical; we don't have roaches, knock on wood) or turning on the light, I'll reach for the light every time. Even if some of the roaches, like Coulter, crave that light.

If Liberals excuse her remarks because we think she's a buffoon who is clearly desperate for attention, we become complicit. If Conservatives distance themselves from her and say "Well, she doesn't speak for me, so I have no duty to rebuke her," they are also complicit, because it's not a political issue. It might be a little different if she were abusing communities with any power or any privilege, groups that could push back.

But Coulter knows that the disability community is a safe target. No, scratch that. Not even a target. Just a punchline. A target would imply that there was some political gain to be had in hurting people like my daughter, like her friends and her family and her community.

As it is, there's not even that. They're just retards, right?

Right?

As citizens of the world and children of God, we have a choice to make, and it needs to be every bit as deliberate and considered as Coulter's choice to use that word the way she does. We have a choice to make every time we read a comment like hers made by a public figure, of course. Whether it's a notable Republican like Ann Coulter or a Democrat like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, we have to hold them accountable.

But more than that, we have a choice to make every time we hear a stranger at the mall use it, or a friend, a family member or a coworker. It is in those moments most of all that we make choices, sometimes hard ones. When we choose silence, when we choose not to make waves or risk looking like humorless scolds, we make a choice. We choose the side of the Ann Coulters of the world.

We choose the dark. When we're silent in opposition, we choose the dark, and we do so knowing perfectly well that we have a flashlight in our pocket, and we choose not to use it.

I remember a line from that famous Howard Beale scene from Network:

"All I know is that first you've got to get mad. You've got to say, 'I'm a human being, God damn it! My life has value!'"

I guess what I'm trying to say is yeah, I'm as mad as hell. And I'm not going to take this anymore. And neither should you.

October 8, 2012

Portrait of a Real Girl

My latest post at Support for Special Needs discusses a little exchange I had on Twitter last week, ostensibly about Schuyler's school photo. The conversation was a doozy, and mostly ended in kookery, which is hardly a surprise at this point.

Still, it brought up a larger point, about how kids like Schuyler are typically a lot more complex and self-determined than some people give them credit for. They are, dare I say it, actual people?

NOTE: This is NOT her school photo. Which is kind of too bad.

September 10, 2012

They Walk Among Us!


Today's post at Support for Special Needs continues last week's Bigfoot/Yeti/Nessie theme (well, it was a theme in my head, anyway) as we explore the mythological creature commonly known, when he's known at all, as the Special Needs Dad.

I started off with a point, but really, by the end I was just sort of cracking myself up like an idiot. You might or might not be surprised at just how often that occurs in my life.

July 9, 2012

Running on Empty

On Facebook the other day, I made a statement in regards to the rapper 50 Cent and his ugly Tweets in which he used autism and special education as cheap insults.

I said:
"I love a good outrage as much as anyone, but honestly? If I were required by law to give two shits about what 50 Cent thinks, I'd have to borrow them both."
A few people took me to task for that, and they weren't wrong to do so. While I haven't exactly changed my position on this concerning the amount of outrage I have been able to muster about 50 Cent and his opinion about anything at all, I do try to at least address my lack of outrage and what that might mean about me at the moment.

You can go read about it on today's Support for Special Needs.

April 14, 2012

Fat Talk

It began, like so many silly things do here in the heady days of The Future, with a comment I made on Facebook.

"I lost ten pounds in the week since I was at the doctor. No joke. Perhaps I should let this infection linger a little longer."

The short version of backstory is that for the past week and a half, I have been sick. REALLY sick, actually, with a one-two punch of what the doctor wanted to call pneumonia but which I weaseled her down to bronchitis (because I am so very very charming, no doubt) and a wicked sinus infection. The bronchitis was under control fairly quickly, but the sinus infection, my very first, lingered painfully and disgustingly. I'm going to skip the details, but suffice to say that due to a near-constant nausea, I had very little to eat that week. When I returned to the doctor for new, hopefully not-pretend antibiotics, the nurse weighed me, and yep. I had lost exactly ten pounds in the course of a week.

So I posted that fun little status update. There are two parts to it, which I believe can be identified as a) the "silver lining" part, and b) the "obviously a joke" part.

Well, maybe not entirely obviously. Someone left what I felt was a passive-aggressive response, linking (without comment) to "How To Spot Fat Talk So You Can Stop It". When I called her on it, she took the "oh, I'm just saying…" approach, and that pushed my button, I guess. Don't walk in the room, release a flatus and then pretend it wasn't you. She said she found "fat talk" to be toxic, and I guess it didn't matter that I was talking about myself, and that no, I wasn't actually advocating the use of illness for radical weight loss.

Because here's the thing: I didn't make a choice. Getting a nasty infection wasn't part of my plan. I didn't stop taking my antibiotics or stick Cheetos up my nose. I was sick, it sucked a very great deal, and I didn't eat much. I didn't really understand how much weight I was losing because I wasn't changing out of my pajamas much. I was a delightful treat; if you had knocked on my door this week, when I answered the door, you wouldn't have thought "Sexy MAN!" You might have phoned up the Centers for Disease Control after you finished spraying Lysol in your face.

I'm going to be blunt. She seemed like a perfectly nice person, but I found her point to be extremely unconvincing, as was another comment by someone else later. Because, again, it was a joke, and again, it wasn't a joke at someone else's expense. You can't just show up on someone else's Facebook page and take their self-referencing, self-deprecating humor and sanctimoniously apply it to yourself. Well, you can, but I'm not sure why you would want to.

Anyway, the whole thing got a little out of hand. (Trust me, you want to read that. I'll wait.)

Fun Internet kookery aside, weight is a tricky issue to discuss publicly. I know that in the "fat-o-sphere" (I really did just type that), there are a lot of specific rules for how these discussions are supposed to take place, with lots of trigger warnings and the like. I know none of these rules, and I'm not sure I care to learn them. Not because I'm a dick (or not JUST because, if you prefer), but because the weight issues I'm discussing are my own. I'm not sure I need a set of guidelines to talk about me.

I've always had issues with weight, ever since I was a kid. And while I've never been morbidly obese, I can't remember the last time I was exactly fit, either. I'm going to use some actual numbers today, since I'm sitting at the low end at the moment. For scale, I am six foot, two inches tall and possess all my limbs and parts in the usual proportions.

At my worst, during what might be termed my "County Fair" days, I weighed 280 pounds. No joke. I remember that day, when I stepped on the scale and saw that number. I was young, too, maybe twenty-six or so. I spent the prime of my youth eating and (more to the point) drinking as if an alien invasion were imminent. All I got for my troubles was about ten years of photos I will never show anyone, and well, yeah, perhaps a little type 2 diabetes. (That was a joke, too. I come from a long line of genetic diabetics, although I certainly tossed enough gasoline on the fire.)

By the time I met Julie, I was way down from that, maybe 250 pounds. I lost a bunch of weight when I was diagnosed with The Beedies at 37, but then I published a book and ate and drank a lot and gained pretty much all of it back. The last time I really remember weighing myself was about a year ago, and I was at an unpleasant 245.

Now here's where it gets fun. Last week, when I went to the doctor, I was surprised to find that I weighed 223 pounds. I knew I had lost some weight; my clothes told me that. But twenty pounds, for nothing? I was pleased.

When I went back to the doctor exactly one week later? 213 pounds. That's not all that far from my doctor's target weight for me. The last time I weighed this little, I think I was still receiving lunch money.

For those of you who also have had weight issues during your life, however, you understand a kind of universal truth. Numbers don't always mean a whole lot to a fat person. Not good ones, anyway. And when I say "fat person", I mean that in the same way that someone who has been clean and sober for twenty years still self-identifies as an alcoholic. Sometimes you can tell the formerly fat person by the clothes they wear, at least a size too large, as if they don't trust what their own senses tell them in the dressing room. I imagine sometimes you can identify the formerly fat in the ranks of the extremely fit and healthy. They watch those numbers closely, perhaps a little grimly. Their own silent exercise mantra might be "Never again."

You can be the obscenely rich CEO of a major corporation, but you can still probably list the names of the bullies who made fun of you when you were a little fat kid. You can have the most beautiful and successful man or woman on your arm at an elegant dinner party, but if you close your eyes, you can clearly see the faces of the pretty girl or the handsome boy who turned you down in school with a barely-concealed smirk on their face, the universal "As if!" sneer.

And if you were a fat kid who discovered early on that you could make people laugh at the jokes you made instead of the shape of your body, then you made sure to hone those skills. You learned to make jokes, and not just innocent ones, either. You learned that the easiest way to deflate a bully was to get the crowd to laugh at him instead, so you developed a sense of humor with an edge, and you never forgot how to use it. And you never ever forgot that if you really wanted to be funny and to keep yourself in the good graces of others, you saved the most biting jokes for yourself.

And when someone shows up on your Facebook page to tell you to use nice words when you talk about weight issues, even when you're talking about yourself, you push back. And you should. Because no matter what your size now, you're a fat person. And you're not about to let someone who (in your mind) apparently hasn't figured out How Things Work take away your own best defenses simply because when they see "fat talk", they take it to heart, as if every conversation about fat people is a conversation about them. As if the warm embrace of "The Fat-o-sphere" is the only place one can find relief, with words of acceptance and maybe some denial, but never anything harsh or sad.

Some of us, and I'm going to say that includes a lot of you reading right now, some of us learned a different way. And whether we hide our fat person past or joke about it or sweat and bleed it away at the gym, we at the very least own our fat person in our own way. If you're a fat person and you try to change that, you might be a well-intentioned person, but you really ought to know better.

Yours truly at 213. Don't get too accustomed to it...

April 11, 2012

Andy Richter Saddens the Universe

When we talk about the dehumanization of people with disabilities, there's a general dismay that receives a certain amount of lip service, but there's a sad reality, too. Not every slur against every disability receives the same amount of outrage. Not every lobby inspires the same level of hesitation from those who might be considering making a joke in a film or on television or wherever. Some of our tribes are very, very small. The number of fists we can shake at the sky is limited.

Which is probably why comedian and Conan co-host Andy Richter didn't hesitate to make this joke earlier tonight:

@Andy_Richter
RE: the-baseball-cap-that-fits-over-the-tops-of-the-ears trend: is microcephaly now considered sexy?

There are a few reasons this bothers me, some of them very personal. But let's get this out of the way first: Andy Richter is a smart and funny guy. And that's part of the problem here. When someone like Tracy Morgan makes some joke about "retarded people", we are outraged for sure. But on some level, we might also look at both the joke and the comedian and say, "Well, honestly, that's pretty dumb."

But Richter has been one of the more intelligent and on-the-fly funny personalities on television for a long time. And there's something about this joke that seems especially cruel. The joke doesn't work (inasmuch as it works at all) unless you know about microcephaly. The joke is that persons with microcephaly have small heads. Get it? And to make this joke, Andy Richter had to be completely aware of what microcephaly is.

Of all the problems with this joke, awareness isn't one of them.

A few harsh points, then. When Richter asks if microcephaly is now considered sexy, he's kidding. If he wasn't kidding, however, the answer would be mostly no. It's not sexy because the word "sexy" is probably only really appropriate when applied to adults. Persons born with more pronounced microcephaly don't generally make it very far into adulthood. Many of them die young, buried by their heartsick parents.

I had the opportunity to meet with a great many of these parents and their amazing children a few summers ago at what is now called the Microcephaly, Lissencephaly and Polymicrogyria Convention, a huge labor of love presented by the Foundation for Children with Microcephaly. I got to know some of the most amazing people in the world at that conference; it literally changed my life.

And I learned to appreciate just how closely their world intersected with mine. At this conference, kids were examined by some of the top experts in the world, including Dr. William Dobyns, the doctor who diagnosed Schuyler's polymicrogyria. (The first thing he did when he met Schuyler in 2005 was measure her head to rule out microcephaly.) At the closing lecture, Dr. Dobyns surprised me by reporting that aside from microcephaly, the most common diagnosis he had given out at the conference was polymicrogyria.

Polymicrogyria. Microcephally. Lissencephaly. Not many advocacy groups for these monsters. No telethons or puzzle pieces or a month for awareness. No inspiring actors in popular tv shows. No movies about a Very Special Child. And no hesitation by a popular and successful tv comedian to make a joke about them, a joke that his clever fans might have to google to even understand and laugh about.

If Schuyler's disability were one that showed on her face, if she were shaped differently because of the little monster in her brain, then perhaps a famous comedian could make a joke about her, too. Perhaps I should feel lucky. Lucky that Schuyler can hide in plain sight, lucky that her appearance doesn't bring out the worst in others, lucky that she might just get to grow up without going to a movie or watching tv and seeing herself as the punchline to a joke.

But I don't feel lucky. I feel sad, mostly for the friends I made at that conference three years ago. Some of those friends have probably buried their children by now. Those who haven't probably don't have the time or the energy to be outraged at Andy Richter's monstrous, stupid joke. I'm sad for all their beautiful children, and for all the kids out there whose disability marks them in a way that attracts pointing jackass fingers. I'm sad for all the ones who can't understand the jokes that are being made, or are even aware that they are being mocked at all. That makes it worse in my eyes, not better.

Once again, I feel like the world really isn't ready to make space for our kids or our families. There's a table, and that table is set for the empowered, and it's even set for the disenfranchised.

But only if you're human. Only if you're better than a punchline.



UPDATE, 11:30am

About an hour ago, Andy Richter removed the offending tweet. It it's place, he made the following statement:

I offended a lot of people yesterday with a tweet using the word "microcephaly". It was not my intention to mock disability. I normally am not bothered by offending people, but in this case, I am. I make jokes, and this was one I shouldn't have made. I apologize for my insensitivity in this instance.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I would like to thank Andy Richter for this gesture. We all have a lot of growing to do, myself as much as anyone.

March 12, 2012

The Shiny Future

It's Monday, which this time means I'm at SXSW in Austin (the Prodigal Son returns!) speaking on a panel, and also that there's a new post over at Support for Special Needs. Are these two things related? Maybe a little.

If you're in Austin today, it's not too late to come say "Hi, Rob!" or "You suck, Rob!" or whatever. I'm cool either way.

February 27, 2012

No Offense

Here's a donut if you didn't get one.
Happy Monday, friends. I hope you got some donuts.

If it's Monday, it must be time for another blog post over at Support for Special Needs. This might be one I ever so slightly regret posting in the very near future, which of course means you should go over and read it right now.

I keep meaning to mention something. If you want to comment on this post, I hope you'll do so over on the SfSN site if possible. I'm not sure if anyone reads the comments over here, not on my Monday posts, anyway.

Have a swell week, yo.

February 13, 2012

Living in The Future

It's Monday, and that can only mean one thing (besides renewing your secret desire to burn down your place of employment). Yes, it's my weekly post at Support for Special Needs.

This week, I am especially grateful to SfSN for the opportunity to talk about the upcoming panel I'm participating in at SXSW Interactive, and a very special video project being put together as part of that panel.

So please go read my post and contribute your thoughts on video if you can. As you'll see from my own contribution, cleaning up and looking nice for the camera is clearly optional.

October 22, 2011

Manly Man Stuff, for Men

The concerns and issues surrounding men's health don't get nearly as much media attention as they should, but it's probably our own fault. We don't generally like to talk about it. Surpise! Men are taciturn about our health, particularly when discussing how it falters. Read more about it in this month's Journal of Duh.

Every November, however, thousands of men join the Movember campaign and grow a moustache to raise money and awareness for prostate cancer and other cancers that specifically affect men. Last year, over sixty-four thousand people in the US raised over $7.5 million. That's a lot of cheesy moustaches.

This year, I've joined up with a group of bloggers and writers who will be growing some lip fuzz for the cause. I would be thrilled if you would go donate at my Movember page.

More importantly, we would love to have other men (or women; I'm not here to judge) join the team. Anyone who has ever seen the atrocity that grows on my face knows that I'm not exactly entering this thing as a ringer. When I grow facial hair, it generally turns out looking like I need to wash my face or possibly consult a doctor. Unless you've got a job as a television anchorman or a professional soup taster, you can probably devote a month of your life to growing an ugly thing on your face for a good cause. And fighting prostate and testicular cancer is undoubtedly a good cause.

So join up, guys. The man-bits you save could be your own.

August 17, 2011

Ask Schuyler

I got involved in a discussion on another site concerning self-advocacy versus parent advocacy that was interesting for about an hour before we all became angry and entrenched.  Well, what are you going to do?

Anyway, as a result of that discussion and its spinoffs on Twitter and Facebook, I asked Schuyler if she would like to actually say something herself.  She didn't have anything she particularly wanted to express, but when I asked her if she'd be willing to answer questions that other people submitted, she was in.

I've already gotten a few on Twitter, and I think she's going to begin answering those after her lunch date with Chef Boyardee is over.  But if you would like to ask Schuyler something you can do it in the comments, on Twitter or Facebook.  Or email me if that's how you roll.  I'll post her answers tomorrow.



Update: Well, "tomorrow" is going to probably end up meaning "Saturday". Apologies, but we got busy with life. I'm kind of okay when that happens. Anyway, Saturday looks like a good day for questions. See you then.

July 12, 2011

Rabbit, Run

("Black in White" by Luke Chueh)

Let us take a moment to consider the strange, sad story of how Marissa's Bunny lost its way.

If you want a pretty complete telling of the story, go check out a post on Love That Max. In particular, read the comments, because much of the story plays out there.

(Shannon Des Roches Rosa sums it up very nicely, too.)

The short version is this: Marissa's Bunny tells the story of little Marissa, born in 2007 with a pretty terrible condition called West syndrome, or "infantile spasms". The blog is written by her father, Mike Wuerthele, and over time has garnered quite a following. A lot of people care very deeply for Marissa.

Last year, Mike turned to that caring community for help. He said he needed to raise money for surgery for Marissa. Thanks to the generosity of people in the gaming and disability communities, Mike raised almost thirty thousand dollars. It strikes me that the folks who helped Mike were very similar to those who helped Schuyler get her speech device six years ago. I suspect that some of them WERE the same people.

Here's where things get murky. Mike announced that he was starting the Marissa's Bunny Foundation, and with matching funds from his employer (who wished to remain anonymous), parents of kids with special needs could apply to receive free iPads for their children. This application process included submitting a great deal of extremely personal information. Forty parents were selected, and they were overjoyed.

Well, of course they were. In addition to the great need being filled, things like this are rare for parents of kids with disabilities. Generosity and good news are like buried treasure to these families. Enthusiastic parents began making plans with their therapists and school teams to incorporate these iPads into their kids' treatment and curriculum. Then they waited; many were notified that their iPads had shipped.

You know where this is going, I know.

As of this writing, not a single family has received an iPad. Mike has given a number of different stories, about shipping errors and legal obstacles and even threats made against him and his family, causing him to stop any shipments at the advice of his lawyers. He offered to refund donations to anyone who asked, but then claimed that his access to PayPal had been restricted.  As more and more people compared notes, the extent to which Mike had been covering his tracks and telling outright lies became clear.

Finally, it all came down to this, an email sent yesterday to the "winners":

There are no longer any iPads. I've never had access to the matching funds I've been promised. Something along the way changed and I'm getting hung out to dry by my bosses.


As to my obliqueness about my bosses and the company I work for, If their identities ever got out, long ago they promised I'd lose my job, my insurance, and take us for everything we have making Marissa's surgery impossible to afford. If I keep my mouth shut and the fact that I got screwed never gets out in any way then I keep my job, and my insurance, and they've promised to pay for Marissa's surgery after we give everything we can.


My reputation is now screwed with the SN community but I have to be able to give Marissa the best chance for as close to normal as possible and will happily work under whatever conditions I need to. I'll dance with the Devil if it gets Marissa what she needs.


We're not going to fundraise any more. There won't be any more giveaways on Marissasbunny for special needs or otherwise. I'm still going to update with Marissa's surgical preps and that kind of thing, but that's all. Marissasbunny is going back to what it was before they got involved, back when many of you started reading. No more promotions, just Marissa and her brother's story.


There are the first words that are my own and not through a corporate lawyer since Thursday.


Regretfully,
-Mike

There will be aftershocks to this story, I'm sure, especially since a number of people have apparently contacted law enforcement. As of this writing, Mike has said that he will be personally giving an iPad to a single winner this afternoon, with photos and no doubt some balloons and bullshit-flavored cupcakes. But I think this story is mostly over.

So what happened here? Was it all a scam, and if it was, to what end? No one paid for an iPad or a raffle ticket, but apparently there were pleas for matching funds funds from Mike's apparently mustache-twirling, comic book villain bosses. That request raised about $4400, funds that have now simply disappeared, along with other money raised for various reasons during the promotion. And the Marissa's Bunny Foundation? Does not appear to exist at all.

Does Marissa herself exist? Did that original almost thirty grand actually help her receive needed surgery? I'm going to step on my swelling cynicism for a moment and say that yeah, I believe that Marissa probably does exist and that Mike's original plea for money was legit. If Mike is anything like Julie and I, he must have been astonished at the generosity of a bunch of strangers on the internet.

Perhaps that opened a door to a dark place for him, a sense that "If it was that easy, then maybe..." Or maybe he was so desperate to be someone's hero that he kept this going to feed on the accolades and the gratitude for the work he was doing. Work that we now can see he probably wasn't doing at all.

I guess there are some lessons to be learned here, beyond the old "trust but verify". After all, when Julie and I and a good friend did a fundraiser to help buy Schuyler her speech device, those of you who donated took it on faith that we were telling the truth. As much as I've welcomed the democratization of the AAC process that the iPad has potentially brought to our families, this might just be the flip side. When you look carefully at Mike's whole "Free iPads for special needs kids!!!" promotion, it fails the sniff test on multiple levels. A speech-language therapist might have picked up on that, because an SLP doesn't exist on scraps of hope like special needs parents do. Situations like this serve as a reminder that regardless of the product or the therapy, we need as much professional guidance as we can get.

For me, however, there's a larger lesson here, a reminder that there is an even greater equalizer at work. People talk about the disability community as if we all gather at the VFW hall on Fridays and approve the minutes from the last meeting while practicing our secret handshake. And those of us who live in this world are treated like saints. "God chose YOU for this very very very special job!"

But our reality is one of blind selection, one of the few truly equal experiences in the universe. A very fair unfairness, perhaps. Membership in this community is open to Kennedys and Palins alike. We celebrate writers like Rupert Isaacson, but we struggle to make sense of someone like Arthur Miller. Many of us talk about how we're not special, we are just doing what any parent would do for their child, but we know that many don't.

Most of all, we like to believe that our commonalities provide a kind of sanctuary, and that when we hear a story like Marissa's and we meet someone like her father, we believe we can trust them. Because to face the alternative, to admit that a father would see his broken, beautiful daughter as a device by which to cheat his fellow special needs parents? That's a bitter pill to swallow. And we've forced down a lot of bitter medicine already.

I have a confession to make now. Honestly, I hope that there is no Marissa, or at the very least that she's a distant niece of Mike's, or a neighbor's kid. I find myself hoping that this is a full-blown scam, an attempt by an outsider to swindle families of kids with disabilities.

Because as bad as that would be, I find it worlds more troubling to imagine such a cynical act being committed by one of our own.

June 17, 2011

F-Day

R & S by Citizen Rob
R & S, a photo by Citizen Rob on Flickr.
This Father's Day weekend, I'm going to take it easy, maybe hang at the pool with Schuyler, get some barbecue with the fam on Sunday, that sort of thing. Not so much with the sitting at the computer, hopefully.

I did contribute to some Father's Day items elsewhere, however. I was one of the fathers quoted over at Love That Max: Why dads of kids with special needs rock, and you can read my thoughts on expectations for special needs dads over at Support for Special Needs: One Father’s Perspective on Father’s Day. So there you go, lots of fatherly pontification for the weekend.

Here's some interesting news as well. I'll be speaking at the Special Needs Mini-Conference at BlogHer '11 in San Diego in August. So stalkers and killers, go gas up your windowless vans and make room in your freezer for my head. I'll be easy to pick out of the crowd, I suspect.

Anyway, Happy Father's Day, everyone. No ties, please.

June 5, 2011

Broken Phantoms

R & S by Citizen Rob
R & S, a photo by Citizen Rob on Flickr.
We talk a lot about the "disability community", and it makes sense to think of ourselves that way. There's strength in numbers, after all, and where disability rights are concerned, it's almost always true that the rising tide lifts all boats. But the experiences that we have with our kids and our loved ones are very different, as are our perspectives and our philosophies. Like snowflakes and unhappy families, we're all broken, and enduring, in our own ways.

If there is any one particularly great experiential divide in our vast community, it may be that between the visually identifiable and the invisible disabilities. It's the difference between a kid in a wheelchair and one who is ambulatory but fighting organ failure; between a child with autism and one with the subtle but identifiable physical markers of Down syndrome; between a blind person with a white cane or a service dog and a deaf person with no visible hearing aids or cochlear implants.

It's the difference between a world of unwanted pity, and one of unwanted judgment.

The public face of disability is different for the visibly and the invisibly impaired, but they both suck the life out of the parents and the children who deflect, and educate on the fly, and most of all endure. I wouldn't trade places with the parent of the child with CP or Down, but that's less about comparing monsters (always a fool's errand), and more about sticking with the devil you know. I've never heard a parent say "I would trade situations with that person in a moment", no matter how broad the disparity. In a very real way, our children's monsters become our own.

Those of us who live in the outside, typical world have a burning desire to understand everyone we see, to KNOW, as if entitled, whatever we think is important about the people around us. I'm as guilty of this as anyone. When we have that information, which we have determined is entirely our business, we can then come to conclusions about the people around us, again as if we need to. We do it to our fellow typical citizens, certainly. And we do it to the broken among us as well.

So when we see someone with an outwardly manifesting impairment, it's tempting to conclude that their lives must be less than ours. Less enriching, less meaningful, and of less value. And we extend pity, because in the absence of a narrative, we've inserted our own, one in which we surely must be better off that THAT poor son of a bitch. It's a pity that is unwanted, and probably unwarranted.

But what do we do when we see someone who shows no outward defect, no physical stamp, no twist of the body as if from the hand of a spiteful God, no sculpted story on their blank faces? What do we do when we are faced with the howling child with the seemingly permissive parents? How do we respond to the older child with a younger child's mannerisms or trappings? Or the little girl who spins and plays as she walks and who speaks, when she does speak, in an alien tongue?



A friend recently recently wrote about a website called Too Big for Stroller. The premise is simple. People take clandestine photos of children in public places who appear to be too old or too big to ride in the strollers. The assumption is that these kids are the spoiled brats of permissive parents. It didn't take much searching, particularly in the comments of NBC and Salon articles about Too Big for Stroller, to find the stories of the broken children.

Some had diseases that robbed them of energy, so the only way to even go in public was to have a stroller as a backup. Some were weakened by failing organs. Some had invisible conditions that left them fragile. One parent told the story of the child whose high-tech wheelchair had malfunctioned and whose insurance carrier wouldn't pay for a loaner. The only way for this child to go out was in a stroller. The alternative for these families is to stay inside, at home, hidden away, or to spend a great deal of money for a wheelchair, exchanging scorn for pity. You pay your money and you take your chances.

And yet, the number of people who felt entitled to make assumptions and judgments was deeply depressing. And not all, or even most, were silenced once the possibility of disability was put in front of them. Adele Melander-Dayton, author of the dismissive and frankly cruel Salon piece (which referred to the site as "hilarious"), tweeted that her piece was causing people to "flip the f out". When I responded with my usual diplomacy and class ("Yeah, some of those 'flipping the f out' probably get sick of their kids with disabilities being mocked by douchebag hipsters."), it brought out this response from an anonymous treat of a tweeter:

"Because ALL seemingly-too-big-for-strollers-kids are disabled, and we are all mocking them with hate speech, right?"

And that's really the crux of it right there. We're not even going to pretend that NONE of them might be disabled, or even most of them. But however many kids with invisible disabilities might be made fun of or hurt by that site, they are acceptable collateral damage, because some of them are probably lazy kids with weak parents, and they must be judged.

And again, I've been guilty of that same thing in the past. I don't know anyone who hasn't, although I sort of wish I did.

We look, and we search within our own world of experience for a template, a perspective that makes sense of people who might otherwise be perplexing to us. When we don't find it, we render judgment. In doing so, we find the troubled autistic boy to be out of control, and his harried mother to be an irresponsible parent. We declare the exhausted child with the failing organ to be "Too Big for the Stroller". We hear the child speaking strangely and judge the parent for allowing their eight year-old to engage in "baby talk". We see the holes in what we know, and we spackle them in with our own insecurities, disguised as judgment fairly rendered.



"Your daughter is a beautiful child. Does not look at all like she was born with anything at all wrong with her. You are blessed."

I received this comment in an email just yesterday, from a very nice person who is reading my book. And she's right, we are blessed.

Schuyler is a beautiful child, much more so than any casual conjecture about my own genetic materials might suggest. She's beautiful, and she's unfailingly kind, and she loves with every cell of her gigantic heart. It's undeniably a blessing.

A blessing, but also sometimes a complication.

Schuyler has had teachers who believe in her, teachers who have worked hard with her for year after year. Her special education team has been tenacious on her behalf; her therapists equally so. We're confident that this will continue with her new team next year. As with any child, atypical or otherwise, the first step towards reaching Schuyler is understanding her. Understanding how she thinks, how she processes information, what she already knows, and how she can be reached.

But what of those who see her but don't understand? What of those mainstream teachers who may see her as a puzzle they never asked for, a challenge they don't wish to step up to? Someone else's job?

Early this year, we met with Schuyler's mainstream teacher, the one who was to teach her science and history and social studies. We expressed our expectations and our hopes for Schuyler. Even then, her response was to lay out the lecture-based plan she uses to teach, and when we expressed our concern that Schuyler might need extra help since she is such a visual learner, she replied that she probably wouldn't have a lot of time to do that. So we knew we were facing some challenges, and the year bore that out.

But at Schuyler's IEP meeting last week, when it came time for this teacher to give her report on Schuyler's academic progress and the work they'd done during the preceding year, she said that she hadn't really had the opportunity to get to know Schuyler all that well, but she was always affectionate and funny, and she did a great job of cleaning up after herself at lunch and was an enthusiastic helper in the classroom.

That was it.

Not a single word concerning academics, about how Schuyler learned in her class, or what this teacher did to help make the material accessible or what accommodations were made. The teacher seemed entirely unaware that she was even expected to teach Schuyler anything. From my admittedly very biased perspective, it was as if the concept of inclusion meant that Schuyler had a right to be parked in her class and to watch the other students, the REAL students, learn. Inclusion appeared to mean being a face in the class photo. Equating equal treatment with fair treatment sounds absolutely right, but that's only true if every student in your classroom has the exact same needs, and of course they do not.

We were shocked, and we were deeply, frustratingly and furiously disappointed, but we weren't surprised. We had been worried all year about this teacher, and we had reached out to try to help her, but in the end, she looked at Schuyler and seemed to see a lovable class pet.

A week later, I remain baffled by how this went down.

I guess it's easy to look at Schuyler and miss the peril she's in. It's easy to look at her and miss the monster. She's a pretty, energetic little girl with a winning personality and not an ounce of guile. She remains innocent to the point of naiveté, which is charming in some ways but also leaves her vulnerable to the world in a way that her outward toughness conceals. Schuyler's positive traits are so strong that her disability really can be invisible, unless you take the time to see, to really see, and to understand. When you do so, and when you project into the future, when she'll be just as far behind and just as in need of help but no longer a cute little girl, you can see just how badly she is wronged by faint praise and academic neglect.

In the absence of that understanding, it's easy to create your own narrative for her, and for us, I suppose. I know that for my own part, I can come across as a one-note tune, and something of a scold. I don't like that about myself, at all. But the thing that Julie and I have become acutely aware of this year, particularly recently, is how much depends on us. Recognizing how nice and pretty and cute Schuyler can be isn't advocacy. It won't save her.

Looking at Schuyler, it's easy to miss her monster. But it's there, and in some ways that matter a very great deal, it's winning.

February 11, 2011

Pimpage


Both this blog and my book have made it to the finals of the About.com Readers' Choice Awards. It would be extra super swell if you'd go vote. You can do so once a day, every day through March 8. The winners will be announced on March 15.


Thank you kindly for your support, yo.

July 21, 2010

On the eighty-five

I wrote a little somethin' somethin' over at Support for Special Needs, on the topic of marriage and special needs families. Perhaps it's odd, the fact that I was asked to write about an aspect of life at which I have frankly not exactly excelled, but you should never underestimate the power of a solid cautionary tale. I share because I care.