Presuming competence goes both ways

Hat tip to Michael Scott Monje Jr for writing the line that led me to this train of thought.

The title sentence is something that’s been ringing in my head ever since I first read the linked poem, and it was hard at first to find the right words to explain why. But now I think I have.

Autistic and disabled people in general do others a grave disservice when we assume they’re ignorant in spite of evidence to the contrary. We do them the same disservice we protest against when it’s done to us. We presume them incompetent. We presume others incompetent of knowing and meaning what they say.

It’s wrong of us to do that. And we hurt ourselves to do that. By educating a brick wall over and over and over again, we waste our own time, energy and spoons. Those of us with PTSD have triggered flashbacks in themselves. People with mental and chronic illnesses have triggered flareups. Others, myself included, have triggered meltdowns.

We need to stop.

We need to accept that someone might know that what they say is harmful, know that it’s hurtful, know that it’s wrong, and not care. We need to accept that someone might know the full impact of what they’re saying, and mean it. We need to presume that others are competent to form harmful, bigoted opinions and to act on them in bullying and abusive ways. Even if they are otherwise seemingly-nice people.

We need to presume competence. We need to presume that others are capable of educating themselves, capable of thoughtful self-evaluation, and capable of changing.  And, as a corollary of the prior, we need to presume that if they do not after being given ample opportunity and in the absence of some reason why they can’t, it is not because they haven’t been educated enough, but rather because they choose not to.

I will no longer presume that people who act in abusive and bullying ways after being asked to stop have simply not been asked in the right way. I will have more respect for them than that. I will presume competence, and realize that they mean to hurt, they mean what they say, and they are choosing to behave that way. People can choose to be mean.

Presuming competence must go both ways.

Two must-reads on the topic of my previous post, and a recommendation

Must-read the first, a necessity for any readers with disabilities: It’s time to accept that they hate you, by Michael Scott Monje Jr.

Must-read the second, another perspective on what went down on the TGPA Facebook page on Monday: “No, Fuck YOU!” When Your “Allies” Are No Longer Your Allies. by Erik at Autistic SHS.

For parents wondering where a good alternative Facebook community is: Consider Parenting Autistic Children with Love and Acceptance and We Are Like Your Child. They’ll be the ones I promote to parents from now on.

Yet more counter-productive antibullying efforts.

So. Yeah. I’m sure those in the autistic community are well aware of this, but an autistic boy recently was humiliated in a very specific and degrading manner by bullies in his community. His parents then decided to compound the humiliation by going to the news and sharing the story – and the video of the incident – internationally.

Neurodivergent K already has a good take on this incident, and I direct you to her blog. The gist of her post is basically this: If you’re trying to counteract bullying, then for the love of all you hold dear in this world, don’t do what the bullies want.

In my post, I’m going to say: if you’re trying to counteract bullying, don’t amplify the bullying. By which I mean: This boy was already humiliated. He was already going to be the subject of gossip at the school for the next approximately until he graduates (judging from my experiences growing up). Then, his parents – assumably with he best intentions in the universe, wanting to raise awareness of bullying – share the video internationally.

Do you thing people in the region (they gave their region, by the way) are not going to talk? Holy flying hell in a handbasket, people. From experience in my school: I was humiliated in a very specific and very embarrassing way by some bullies as a kid. I will not detail the experience, but suffice to say it happened (in more than one way, actually – bullies are terrible people). One time, I made the mistake of telling an adult when they asked about some jokes kids were making. Then an assembly was called at school, and the principle lectured the entire school on how it’s not at all okay to do [very specific thing that happened to me] to another person.

If it was possible to melt into my seat or burst into flames on the spot, I would have. Instead, what had been an isolated incident of bullying where the bullies hadn’t told anyone because they were afraid they would get into trouble became the talk of the school. And my humiliation was compounded.

That’s what those parents did to that boy. Except, instead of it being just the school, they humiliated him in front of their entire community. People will talk. They’ll find out who and how and where and when. That’s what they do. And if his parents think he was dealing with bullying before this happened, it’s got nothing on the number of pranks that will be done to see exactly how gullible and bullyable he is in the coming months. His parents just gave the fucking green light to every single nasty prank anyone in his school thinks of, and they painted a hugeass target right on his back.

And they probably don’t realize it.

But that’s not through this being an impossible-to-anticipate consequence. Even though autistic people are supposedly the ones with empathy deficits, it’s because the parents are displaying an extraordinary lack of empathy for their son.

Parents, think of it this way: Think back to when you were a teenager. Think about something someone else did to you that you found very hurtful and humiliating. Think about that. If it’s not an incident of similar severity to what happened to this kid, amplify the humiliation accordingly. Now, ask yourself, “When I was a teenager, would I have wanted my parents to share this incident internationally?”

I am pretty much certain that the answer to that question is “No. No, no, no, no, no. Not in a million years. No.”

Parents, your kids have thoughts and emotions and feelings, and not just about what their bullies do to them. They also have thoughts and emotions and feelings about what you do to them. Think about how you would have felt as a teenager about your parents doing something to you, then decide whether you want to inflict those feelings on your kid. Think about whether or not you would’ve wanted something shared before you share it. Better yet, ask your kid’s permission before you share something concerning them. And let them have the final say. Because you’re not the one who has to live with the fallout. They are.

All kids want to succeed

When I was a kid, my teachers would get frustrated with the seemingly-random distribution of my abilities. They didn’t understand how I could read at a high school level but not read aloud, how I could do trigonometry, but not write cursive, how I could memorize some things instantly and others not at all. When faced with a kid who frustrates and baffles them by turns, many teachers, I’ve found, don’t seek to look further. Instead, they blame the kid.

I gathered many unofficial labels due to my parents’ refusal to get me an official one. One of the most damaging to me as a kid was the idea that I “just don’t want to succeed.”

Some of you will not have to imagine this because you lived it, but for the rest of you, imagine that you’re a kid again. Imagine you’re having trouble with something in school – doesn’t matter what it is, but just imagine that the thing giving you trouble is utterly incomprehensible to you. Someone might as well be speaking Klingon to a non-Trekkie for all the sense it makes to you. Remember the frustration you felt as a kid when having trouble with something.

Imagine you told your teacher about this frustration, and were met with a reiteration of the words that make no sense to you. When you say they make no sense to you, that you don’t understand, the teacher tells you to try harder. You don’t understand how you can try harder on something that you don’t even have a sliver of understanding about, but you try harder anyway. And you still can’t do it.

So you ask a different adult. And they give you the same explanation. And it still makes no sense. They also ask you to try harder.

You go back and forth like this for a while, and finally you give up. You don’t understand, and it’s obvious they can’t help you understand, so why should you keep trying? It’s not like you’re going to get it anyway.

And that’s when the adults start telling you that you could get it if you tried (ignoring the fact that you were trying before and it didn’t help), and when you continue to not try because you’re sick of trying to break down a metaphorical brick wall with your forehead (all that’s done is give you a sore forehead. The wall stands unperturbed.), they tell you that you must not want to succeed.

At first, you ignore them. After all, you know you want to succeed, and you just don’t understand it and don’t see the point of doing the same thing over and over again with the same results.

After a while, though, you start to wonder if they’re right. Especially as it becomes grown-ups go-to answer whenever you have any trouble with anything. You don’t want to succeed. You’re not trying. Try harder, and you’ll succeed. If you don’t succeed, it’s your fault, you didn’t want it enough.

Imagine the impact of that message as the kid starts to take it to heart. Imagine it.

What “you don’t want to succeed” did to me is it made me afraid to ask adults for help. Because I’d be blamed for the difficulty I was having an told that I just needed to try harder. The hilarity of it was that if I didn’t ask for help, I would likewise be blamed. I needed to ask for help when I was having a hard time with it. That I didn’t meant I must not want to succeed.

It became a catch-22 that absolved the grown-ups around me of any responsibility to help me learn the things they claimed to be trying to teach me. Everything was my fault for not wanting it bad enough. If I succeeded on my own without them, it was proof that I could succeed when I “wanted” to badly enough (ignoring the fact that those successes were in subjects that did and have always come easily to me, like math and science). If I asked for help, it was me being lazy and trying to get someone else to do my work for me because I didn’t want to succeed enough, and if I didn’t ask for help and struggled along on my own, it was because I wasn’t trying and didn’t want to succeed.

I have never met a kid that doesn’t want to succeed. The child’s definition of success may be different from that of the adults around them, but all kids want to succeed. When adults say they don’t, I wonder what it is the adults are trying to explain away.

Again and again and again.

TW: murder, suicide, murder-suicide, ableism, and victim-blaming

It’s happened again.

Another parent has decided to murder their autistic kid.

RIP Robbie. You did not deserve what your mother did to you.

The article is fucking disgusting, too. All of the “distraught mother” tropes and all the painting the victim as the villain and his murderer as the victim.

And I’m so damn tired that every single time some parent decides that disabled kids aren’t worthy of life, we have to have a huge fucking fight over whether or not we’re people and deserve to have our murders treated as such.

I just wish that just once allistic people would STFU and let autistic people grieve for a murdered one of our own in peace without having to fight over whether or not we’re people and whether or not our murders actually count as murder-murder.

See also: Cue allistic parents whining, “But services!” as if that excuses anything in 3… 2… 1…

“It’s just asthma.”

Pet peeve: “It’s just asthma.”

Even though it’s a thing I say sometimes (usually to reassure people hovering over me in hopes it’ll get them to stop hovering and/or to reassure people giving me the stink eye that my very loud and scary-sounding cough isn’t contagious), I hate the sentiment when it comes from nonasthmatics. Particularly in the form of horizontal ableism from other chronic illness folk and/or from people in positions of authority.

Because the unspoken other half to that statement is typically, “… it’s not like you have a real chronic illness.”

And internalizing that sentiment has led me to do some very foolish things, like finish an exam before I went to the ER, or like finishing a very strenuous martial arts test with my lung function in the red, like not getting a flu shot when offered (long story), or like staying home from the ER because even though my PF was bottoming out at 180 when my PB is 680, it was “just asthma” and it wasn’t like it could kill me (uh, yeah, it could. Don’t do that, by the way. It’s a bad idea).

I am chronically ill. Asthma is a real chronic illness. And anyone who disagrees with me on that can trade my body for theirs so they can recover from the pulled muscles and bruised sternum and burst blood vessels I gave myself in a flare-up last week for me.

That is all.

Announcing a blog project and a call for help

So, there are apparently a lot of people out there who think that cognitive and developmental disability ableism isn’t a thing. That it’s not “real” oppression. This is a meme with disturbing reach and pervasiveness. And it is a myth. 

I want to debunk this myth. 

So I’m going to be writing a blog series on the history of cognitive and developmental disability ableism. Sometime after April is my rough timeline for my first post.

If anybody has any useful resources they can direct me to, I would appreciate it greatly. I want to do this properly, so I’m looking for historical, journalistic, or peer-reviewed articles. I’ll count blog posts as journalistic if they cite their claims appropriately and/or otherwise support their claims with evidence. Particular emphasis on pre-20th century stuff (to establish that historical ableism has been a thing for a while), and stuff that’s still ongoing (the JRC will definitely be making an appearance, among others).

Language restrictions: Due to the fact that I don’t read well in any of my other languages, I need all resources to either be written in English or have an English translation available.

Thanks, all! More updates will be coming on timeline, etc, when I know more.