Shades of Gray.

Sometimes, when I relay an anecdote here, it is in the vein of the surface humor and quirky innocence. When you look deeper, there is always the disability. Some of the stories, while light-hearted, still convey the underlying message that I speak from travels down an unconventional road.

Every choice I make: school, treatment, disclosure, diet, schedules, work or stay at home, types of play, hours my child sleeps, activities in which he participates – all affect who my son will become. There is a roller coaster I ride in connection with these decisions and it is full of emotional peaks and valleys. As much as I want it to slow down and let me off, it doesn’t and it won’t. I will ride it for the rest of my days.

When I started this blog, it was with the goal of spreading awareness to people who were facing a potential diagnosis. For moms who needed another voice to help them through the storm. So others might find someone who’d been through it without a clue and relate to that. Sometimes, I’ve shared stories that I had no idea would stir a controversy only to find myself in the middle of one. The one thing I never thought about was changing the world.

I have been fortunate enough to be educated by everyone that surrounds me. I have received acceptance and kindness, advice and rebuke, and genuine love and support from close friends and family far away. I honestly believe it all comes from caring and kindness.

I try to do what is in my child’s best interest. Will I hurt him less by taking one action over another? Shall I allow him to participate in unproven therapies that may reduce his difficulties, or do I try to make others accept him as is? There are no easy answers. There is no black and white. There are only shades of gray.

I have a strong desire to “normalize” my son, to reduce his oddities so he can blend. To teach him to “behave” as neurotypical children behave. I love my son just as he is. But I am not the concern. Controlling the things that make him different, the best he can will help him get by with the least amount of grief, now and forever. The odder he is, the more he will be made fun of. It’s as simple as that.

There are millions of people who will never come here and read (bummer). There are people who may tell you to your face that they understand, but who, behind your back, have other ideas about your parenting skills. Some have preconceived notions that autism is a lie or an excuse. There is a lot of ignorance. There is ugly and unkind.

Who, among us, does not know of this quote from the land of idiocy by Michael Savage, which was reprinted and captured on audio here: This is it:

Now, you want me to tell you my opinion on autism, since I’m not talking about autism? A fraud, a racket. For a long while, we were hearing that every minority child had asthma. Why did they sudden — why was there an asthma epidemic amongst minority children? Because I’ll tell you why: The children got extra welfare if they were disabled, and they got extra help in school. It was a money racket. Everyone went in and was told [fake cough], “When the nurse looks at you, you go [fake cough], ‘I don’t know, the dust got me.’ ” See, everyone had asthma from the minority community. That was number one.

Now, the illness du jour is autism. You know what autism is? I’ll tell you what autism is. In 99 percent of the cases, it’s a brat who hasn’t been told to cut the act out. That’s what autism is.

What do you mean they scream and they’re silent? They don’t have a father around to tell them, “Don’t act like a moron. You’ll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don’t sit there crying and screaming, idiot.

Autism — everybody has an illness. If I behaved like a fool, my father called me a fool. And he said to me, “Don’t behave like a fool.” The worst thing he said — “Don’t behave like a fool. Don’t be anybody’s dummy. Don’t sound like an idiot. Don’t act like a girl. Don’t cry.” That’s what I was raised with. That’s what you should raise your children with. Stop with the sensitivity training. You’re turning your son into a girl, and you’re turning your nation into a nation of losers and beaten men. That’s why we have the politicians we have.”

That’s someone you could never educate. And he is not an isolated individual. According to one survey, Savage attracts nearly 8 million listeners to his radio show daily.

The second famous idiot to speak about autism did not do it on a radio show where it could die out quickly. He did it in his book where his words will live in infamy. This idiot’s name is Denis Leary and here is what he said:

There is a huge boom in autism right now because inattentive mothers and competitive dads want an explanation for why their dumb-ass kids can’t compete academically, so they throw money into the happy laps of shrinks . . . to get back diagnoses that help explain away the deficiencies of their junior morons. I don’t give a [bleep] what these crackerjack whack jobs tell you – yer kid is NOT autistic. He’s just stupid. Or lazy. Or both.”

Denis Leary was the “star” of the TV show, Rescue Me, for over 6 years with an average audience of over 2 million viewers. These are “famous” people with followings that spout such utter nonsense. And sadly, people listen and nod their heads in agreement.

The bitter reality is that there are millions who believe autism is a “fraud”. We don’t run across them in our world generally. We don’t talk about them. Those millions have kids. Those kids go to school. Those kids will meet my kid. I hope that my kid will be armed with tools to help him cope.

When my son is fully developed as a person, knows his mind, and can recognize dangers of the world around him, whether that is as an adult or before or after, he can make his own decisions. He can advocate for himself.

Until that day, I will do my best to see that he blends. To avoid hate. Is there a better way that is realistic for today’s world? Let me know. In the meantime, I will work to make him the best shade of gray I can. And maybe, if we figure out the way to a better world, his colors can flourish in peace.

[After posting this, my great bloggy friend Kelly was inspired to post her own “tribute” to Denis Leary at her blog… Please check out her very endorsed and different take on this subject here. ]

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About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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13 Responses to Shades of Gray.

  1. I used to like Dennis Leary. Not anymore. Unfortunately, there is just no helping people like that.

    But for Every Dennis Leary, there is also a Dan Marino. Dan is my fourth cousin. We lost touch after the relatives who bound our families together passed away. But sometime after those people died, something happened for my cousin. He had a little boy and the little boy was diagnosed with autism. Now there is a multi-million dollar facility and programs growing every day to support children and families with autism. http://www.danmarinofoundation.org/mari.html

    Don’t get caught up in the people you can’t help, Karen. Let them go down with the sinking ship. And celebrate the ones who do understand. They’re the ones who make life’s journey worthwhile.

  2. Teresa says:

    It has to be sheer ignorance that causes people to say terrible things. Bill Mahar is another celebrity who has made awful comments about special needs people. I’m sure the list is long. If they could only walk a day in our shoes…

  3. C... says:

    It’s sad we have to appear to be what we are not. I know exactly the feeling of that without being autistic. I am Mexican and many people tell me I am lucky I look and sound white. I even kept my married name after my divorce to blend. My son has aspergers and looks white but stands out because he flaps his hands and avoids eye contact and has meltdowns. I am sometimes glad I chose to marry a white guy – at least now he has one less thing to worry about because at least he looks white … maybe one day he can deny his heritage and hide his hand flapping perfectly too. 🙂 I don’t know what’s worse. Losing a part of you or becoming like everyone else.

  4. Lizbeth says:

    You’re doing the best for your son and others, who can ask for more than that?!? But I know what you mean. It’s sad that some people have microphones to a larger audience and the people listening believe them. Hopefully, it’s people like all of us here, working to dispel their falsehood so others can see things for what they really are. I only hope they have the sense to listen.

  5. Flannery says:

    Yes, it is sad that people that have the ear of the public, use their position to spout off about things they know nothing about.

    What really worries me, though, is school. These kids get meaner as they get older, and so far no one is educating the kids in school about kids with special needs.

    It’s going to get harder before it gets easier.

  6. I still feel so new to all of this, I had no idea there were people like that out there. It makes me furious.

    But I think I’m kind of on the fence about how to proceed with that. Obviously we all want the best for our children, and I certainly want Aran to settle into life as comfortably as he can and excel in every way he possibly can. But I don’t think that we should have to hide his autism for two reasons: 1) it’s everyone else’s problem. There’s nothing wrong with being autistic. In a way, people like the jerks you quoted (they don’t deserve names, they think too highly of themselves as it is) are bullies, and I don’t want to roll over to them. At the same time, there’s the matter of protecting my son from their hate–but not too much. If he does successfully navigate and mainstream, he’s going to have to go out there and be in adult in that mess, and he needs to be prepared. We’ve got a few years to worry about that, though!

    2), I don’t like the idea of leaving those who CAN’T hide their autism behind to face the hate alone. Should the kid whose impulse control is poorer and who can’t hide his stimming or speech patterns (or lack of speech) be forced to take the brunt of the hate so that my son can sail under the radar unnoticed? I’d rather see my son excel and then stand up there one day next to someone like Temple Grandin and say, “Yes, I am autistic. And I’m not ashamed of that.”

    I guess I said all of that to say I don’t know what the best thing is, but at the end of the day, we all have to do what we think is best for our own children. I think it’s brave to bring up topics like this in your posts, and it can only benefit how autism is seen in the future, despite those hate-mongering, little-minded, self-important you-know-whats.

  7. Kelly says:

    Hey Karen. I have nothing intelligent to add to this conversation. Just know that I am mentally giving Savage and Leary the biggest fattest finger that I can. I would drop a lot of f-bombs to go with it, but I respect your blog too much to lower it to that level. My blog, on the other hand, has no such delusions of higher intellect or thoughtful prose. I may do a link to you but use my blog to unload some of the total and utter fury that I feel right now.

    BTW, I’ve known that Savage is an ahole for some time now. Leary is new to my Most Hated List. Pisser, that.

  8. Tootleslady says:

    I wanna break Dennis leary’s knee caps with a bat. I bet he thinks that children with cerebral palsy just “choose” to not use certain muscles cause they are “lazy”.

  9. Amanda says:

    People often talk about the challenges of raising a special needs child but honestly the biggest challenge about it so far has been dealing with other people. Ignorance abounds, even among professionals, so we had to educate ourselves.

    We found unlikely allies among his teachers. They didn’t know much about autism either but they knew plenty about kids and once they realized we were right in our decision to mainstream, they did everything in their power to make it happen.

    When he was younger we also hoped he would learn how to “blend in” but, while he’s made enormous progress (he’s 10), this has not materialized so far. Luckily there are more important things.

  10. Rebecca says:

    Both of those self proclaimed experts annoy me and make me so frustrated inside. They were comments made from the other world. The world that hasn’t seen a chronic illness. The world of normalcy. It’s a sad world, really. Because in the face of turbulence, one learns empathy. Lets hope that our world experiences enough turbulence and success to produce understanding, compassionate generations of people who know how to love. I really don’t think the Savage guy knows love. Not even a bit. Dennis Leary? Didn’t he sing a song called “I’m an A$$h0l3”? Sums it up pretty good for me.

  11. eof737 says:

    I could not believe the ugliness Leary and Savage were spouting; how tragic! What were they thinking? Honestly, their words left me shocked…
    Like you said Karen, “There are no easy answers. There is no black and white. There are only shades of gray.”

  12. This makes me sick to my stomach. But you’re right, these are people who can’t be educated and we need to focus our limited amount of time and energy on the ones who can.

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