I went to collect my almost 17-year-old son from College today, only to find myself being dragged into an impromptu meeting with the head supervisor of his Special Needs Unit and the parent of another 19-year-old student.
So what crime had my son and the other student committed that had the Special Needs Unit in such a tizz?
Well, my son and his friend, had decided that they‘d had enough of being surrounded by people all day, so they’d cut their last class and were found sitting, talking quietly together outside the SNU on a bench.
Oh my god!!!!!!!!!!
What an apparently, absolutely awful and completely inappropriate thing for two young adults with Autism to choose to do!!!!!!!!
How dare they even try and act like “normal” young adults who are capable of making their own decisions regarding their state of mind and choose to take up a small piece of quiet time at the end of the day for themselves, instead of entering once again into a noisy class room.
For making this choice, both my son and his friend were not only hauled over the coals, but both had their parents snapped up in the College car park at pick up time and dragged into an overly serious meeting regarding the “consequences” of said actions”.
I’m sorry but personally I felt embarrassed to be there, in that meeting, with those people, who were all condemning my son and his friend, for making the very choices and taking the very actions that they undoubtedly see every other non-autistic student at that College being able to make for themselves every day, without so much as receiving a second glance by their teachers, let alone suffering the indignity of a reprimand from their head supervisor in front of their parents.
My son chose to go to a main stream College for a reason and that reason did not include him being treated as if he should hold fewer personal rights than any of the other non-autistic students at that campus.
He chose to go to that College because he wanted to continue his education in a ‘normal’ environment and be viewed as a ‘normal’ student.
Yes he has Autism and so does his friend, but that shouldn’t automatically mean that they both forfeit the right to act autonomously occasionally, should it?
Neither left the College Campus.
Neither committed any acts of vandalism nor even tried to do anything particularly wrong.
Neither were being loud or in any way disrupting the learning experiences of other students.
Neither were being inappropriate with each other in any way.
All they were doing was talking, quietly, on a bench that could be easily seen right outside the window of the SNU.
In comparison to some of the actions of the ‘normal’ students on that campus whom I’ve seen walking around swearing loudly, pushing into each other and even in one extreme case punching holes in the wall, my son and his friend were thoroughly tame, well-mannered and despite being without ‘teacher supervision’, were well-behaved.
Yet both my son and his friend found themselves being spoken too as if they were naughty 6 year olds instead of being 17 and 19 years old respectively.
Never once, despite all of the things I’ve seen on that campus, have I ever seen any other students there, being spoken too as if they were an errant child instead of a young adult, by the staff .
So I sat in that meeting, much like my son, cringing from the injustice of it all and realizing silently that speaking up, in this environment, would simply never be an option at all.
I watched my son grow paler and paler as the head of the Special Needs Unit grumbled on and on at him and wondered why it was that this supposedly educated and well seasoned disability support worker could not see the enormous and incredibly negative impact that his words were having on my son.
My own sense of hopeless sadness growing as the effects of the blows that each negative word, spoken to my son, had on him.
Taking from him the strength of a head held high and reshaping his body with deliberately hunched shoulders and a bowed head that averted his gaze from everyone in the room and instead remained stoically focused on burning holes into the floor, with his sad, angry eyes.
When the grumbling had finally come to an end I asked my son if he had anything that he’d like to say but his mouth had formed itself into a thin hard-line.
His words were once again locked inside of him.
He was going into shut down mode and all he could do was glare at the floor and shake his head.
Now, instead of looking forward to going to College tomorrow, as he normally would, my son is terrified that he might once again make the mistake of thinking and acting for himself and perhaps risk being expelled because of it.
He is equally as terrified that when he goes to College tomorrow that his friend may no longer want to remain friends with him.
It seems the tirade of today has done nothing but reinforce the sense that there is some kind of invisible separation between the rights of my son and the rights of other students at the College.
The reactions of the staff have done nothing but induce fear within my son.
So accordingly, I can’t help but wonder just where the equality is to be found in any of their dramatic over reactions?
I agree that ideally, my son and his friend should not have ditched their last class, but, what College student isn’t equally as guilty of occasionally doing the same thing, only without all the encumbrances of the embarrassment and fear, that my son has now experienced?
Doesn’t anyone there understand how amazing it is for my son to have a friend that he feels he can genuinely share his time with?
Why does it always seem, that the very measures that are put in place to help my son, too often end up hindering him?
That instead of giving him a sense of empowerment, these measures end up robbing him of the right to direct his own personhood?