Freedom to Speak.

Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.  And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.  A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.  Martin Luther King, Jr.

 Fourth of July is for fireworks and discussions of freedom.  In the autism community here in America, we are free to discuss our ideas, convey our desires and seek out equal rights for our loved ones and ourselves, as persons affected by autism.  We cannot deny that we and our loved ones are treated and viewed differently.  We struggle daily to bring awareness and knowledge to the public at large to gain strides in our quest to be treated fairly and equally by those without autism in their lives.

It is extremely jarring – to say the least- when I encounter the setbacks to being treated equally.  I am sometimes jolted to the realization that the continuous struggle of which Dr. King spoke applies equally to our community.

I was innocently buying my groceries Sunday afternoon when I saw this cover of National Enquirer as I stood in line at the check-out:

“Autism Shocker”.  Really?  Instead of asking what that means, let’s ask what that is intended to convey.  Autism can be a shocker when diagnosed?  Yes.  But when the words “autism shocker” are on the cover of a rag like this, they come with an entirely different connotation.  For me, it was conveying that “autism” is something defective, to  be ashamed of and hidden.  Something that the National Enquirer uncovered and “reported.”

Admittedly, I did not pick the rag up and read the story inside.  I was in a hurry.  Guess what? I’m not the only one who will see just the headline and never read the inside.  So regardless of what it says inside, what it conveys on the cover is what sets me off.

You might just tell me to “consider the source” and let it go, but I had to mention it here.  That crap supposedly has a circulation of 1 million.  Who knows how many more people will see that headline in public places in which it is displayed.  Millions more than the circulation will read that headline and nothing more.   While it is easy for people to say that no one really takes it seriously, guess what else?  It still leaves an impression.  It’s not like the story is “Travolta and wife blessed with second son with autism.” Many months or a year later, if someone mentions that someone has autism, that little nugget, “autism shocker” will still be in their minds, subconsciously.  Perhaps, even exerting an ugly influence.

Each and every one of us in the autism community works so hard each day to reach the mainstream and explain how our children are smart and beautiful and worthy.  We fight at IEPs and in coordinating services and hunt down babysitters and try to educate the preschool and other teachers that educate our children.  We even have an International Day and a whole month in April to make people aware.  And then something like this is printed with a voice millionfolds louder than any of us, drowning us out with all kinds of ugly.

I’ve got no real beef with John Travolta, his wife or his choice of Scientology (freedom of religion) because what he does is his business.  (I actually loved his dancing in Pulp Fiction with Uma Thurman).  If his only 8 month old child has already been diagnosed with autism that would be a pretty early diagnosis by any standard – and one I really doubt has been made.  This couple has had enough tragedy for a lifetime losing one son.  Now, with a new baby, they are being dissected again and in an intentionally mean-spirited headlining way that now affects all of us.

On this 4th of July, I reflect and give due regard to our struggle to be free as a country.  Freedom to speak is part of that.  Unfortunately, even though each of us have the opportunity to speak, the audience each of us reaches is not equal.  For us in the autism community, our struggle continues.  We have to continue to write and speak and make the world aware that autism should be viewed with respect, compassion and love, not “shock”.

My back is straight.  No one – certainly not the National Enquirer will be riding me.  I will continue the struggle here in my blog spot in the universe.  My son depends on me.  “Autism Shocker” will be met with posts like “Lessons from My Son”.  Thank you Dr. King, for your words keep me strong when I go through the grocery store line.

Happy 4th of July to all! 

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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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9 Responses to Freedom to Speak.

  1. It’s just such a shame that people do these kinds of things to make money — we all know “smut sells” and even the most innocent forays onto the internet can prove it (I once went to dicks (dot) com — thinking I was going to see the web site for Dick’s Sporting Goods… yeah, duh. I know). But disabilities should never be reduced to the level of smut — no matter who has them.

    You continue to give me hope with your strength, Karen. I hope you never ever give up fighting!

    • solodialogue says:

      Oh Karla! Lol! I’m sorry but that was sooo funny! You are so completely innocent -at least I think so…;)

      Yes, this was just such idiocy and it really pushed my buttons. But hey, at least we have the freedom of speech to try and respond to this kind of crap (which – sadly also has the freedom as well…)

      Happy 4th of July!

  2. Lizbeth says:

    Venue’s like the one you refer to have continually speculated that his son Jett had autism, among other things. Often in line at WalMart I’d see the headlines and just shake my head never willing to even touch the source for fear of it rubbing off on me–literally and figuratively. It’s a shame the freedom of speech can take us a bazillion steps back. Well you know, till we pipe up! 🙂

  3. Amanda says:

    I agree, that’s just sensationalism at its worst. Unfortunately freedom of speech cuts both ways. Or at least it does in certain subjects, never on others. The only thing we can do is fight back by living example.

    When it came time for my son to start school I refused to send him to a special school, just to make everyone else feel better, when I knew he was perfectly able to mainstream, indeed needed it. This required a lot of sacrifice and I often wondered if I was doing the right thing.

    But 5 years later he’s part of the community, accepted by everyone – even by those who don’t like him. (Something that can happen to any other child as well.)

    At least some people in the world no longer thing that autism is something horrible.

    Ok, I’m slowly stepping off the soapbox. Happy 4th. 🙂

    • solodialogue says:

      Fighting back by living example is a beautiful idea, Amanda and I think it’s the way we do live. You have done an amazing job by your son. Each person whose view we can change makes a difference. It’s just slow progress but progress, nonetheless. 🙂

      • Amanda says:

        Thanks, but I have to say he did meet us more than half way. Not always willingly but he did. And in the end of the day it was his sweet personality that won people over, not mind which is much like a porcupine. 🙂

        And thanks again for your thought provoking independence day post.

  4. Amanda says:

    mind=mine – sorry for the typos, unlike the Pokemon I can’t catch them all.

  5. eof737 says:

    Happy 4th and be rest assured that your voice/message is heard loud and clear… 🙂

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