Special Needs

Ableism is discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities or who are perceived to have disabilities. Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities and as inferior to the non-disabled. ~ Wikipedia

I made the mistake of reading comments on an Instagram post in favor of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. They were mostly positive. But, there was one naysayer who stood out for his initial lack of vitriol. He was just mildly snarky. But, it was like he had committed some heinous sin, instead of posting a disagreement rooted in ignorance.

He was immediately under attack. Mostly the responses remained as snarky comebacks. However, one of them made me cringe.

It sounds like your boss is good at hiring people with special needs.

I couldn’t scroll past without addressing it.

Back in the day, the insult used was, “retard,” frequently accompanied by a physically mocking action. Much like 45’s mocking actions regarding a reporter who experiences a physical disability.

Another one is, “riding the short bus.”

However you frame it, it’s showing a prejudice toward people with disabilities, especially intellectual ones.

How about how mental health challenges are referred to?

What are you, crazy?

Man, that was INSANE!

She’s so bipolar.

That one’s not right in the head.

Or the fact that so many movies and TV shows portray mental health patients as dangerous killers and all the shootings being reported as someone with mental illness, before an evaluation can be done?

The stigma and prejudices against people with physical, developmental, and mental disabilities is real and insidious. Just as we need to recognize, call out, and address racism, in all its forms, sexism, genderism, and sizism, we need to call out ableism.

It isn’t about political correctness, it’s about human rights.

For more on my perspective on ableism, go here.


Litigiousness, fear, and losing our voice

Last week all three teaching staff in my daughter’s Early Head Start classroom were absent.  I had assumed that they were possibly attending a training or some other work related program.  When I questioned the lead teacher replacement, she stated that she didn’t know anything other than they were not in the classroom.  She seemed very stressed and uncomfortable whenever she was questioned.  This caused me a little bit of concern, but since I was familiar with her and the other subs in the room, I just let it go.

On Sunday I received a call from another parent who believed that all three staff had been terminated or placed on some kind of administrative leave and were not going to be allowed to return or attend and participate in the Transition/Graduation Ceremony they had been helping our children prepare for.  She informed me that there was a public Policy Council meeting taking place last night and asked me to be there with her, so that we could possibly get answers and express our concerns regarding the impact on our children.  Yesterday, she contacted me again to verify that I would be there and indicated that she felt that some of the administration were trying to intimidate and discourage the parents from participating.  She also requested I bring a letter, which is what I wrote as my blog entry for yesterday.

Attending the Policy Council meeting was an interesting experience.  One that I wish I had taken advantage of before and may engage in, if my daughter is able to continue and transition into the Head Start program in the future.  One of the most interesting things the response of the Director of the Head Start Program when asked by a Board Member regarding the possibility of finding creative ways to provide services to community members in need who are not currently being served.

He stated that the federal agency in charge of overseeing the program nationally has a very punitive response when programs don’t stick strictly to the established guidelines and protocols.  Which means loss of funding.  In a punitive atmosphere taking risks and being creative in exploring solutions and ways to serve the needs of the community decreases.  Therefore, there are no current plans in place to address the needs of those not currently being served due to questions of program eligibility.

This discussion took place during the course of the three hours of agenda items regarding audits, budgets, strategic planning, program self-assessments, and program reports while we were waiting for the Personnel agenda item to be addressed.  Personnel was actually the first agenda item on the list, but got pushed back because when the meeting began there was not a Quorum of Policy Council members present to vote on the action items, even though the meeting began 15 – 20 minutes late.  Within less than five minutes of that declaration the remaining numbers to reach quorum arrived.

When Personnel was finally up, a disclaimer was stated that only those who were part of the Personnel Committee had knowledge of the details and that legally they were not able to discuss any of the details outside of the context of their committee meeting.  To do so would open them as individuals and the organization up to lawsuits and negative legal ramifications.

So we sat through the voting.

Only one of the teaching staff who had been absent had her name brought up and voted on.  The vote carried through her termination.  Some of the other voting seemed to indicate that personnel to replace all three staff were being put in place.

Once the voting was finished, we attempted to voice our concerns and advocate for the staff.  At that point, we were shut down and instructed to not speak any further until we had met with and voiced those concerns to the Program Director of the Early Head Start Program and that bringing those concerns to air in front of the Board and Policy Council in an open public meeting would open us up to negative legal ramifications and potential lawsuits.

I didn’t pay attention enough to the early civics lessons of Schoolhouse Rock and what was taught in the elementary schools I attended.  By the time I was in High School and made my attempts to complete a College education, I was so caught up in surviving the day to day realities of having been a low-income, teen, single, welfare mom, that I didn’t think about, engage in, or understand the ramifications of judicial decisions and creating laws and rules through litigation, and did my best to ignore and avoid political involvement and discourse.

I look around me now and see the changes that have taken place in our country over the past two decades, while I was too busy being overwhelmed with surviving my circumstances and cycling through the depression, fibromyalgia, and relationship problems in my life and realize that there are way too many of us who have lost our voice because we didn’t use it while others increased the power of litigation and now use fear of litigation to silence us.

No longer is it a question if rationality, morality, truth, and justice will be the determining values and priorities when making key decisions: political, organizational, or personal.  Now the question is, “How much will it cost in terms of time and money if this issue is taken to court?”  So, the perception and fear that someone might, possibly sue an individual or organization becomes the determining factor in whether we get to exercise our freedom of speech.

We have lost and continue to lose our voice to the fear of litigation.

Character: Perseverance, loyalty, and self

How do we know that we are taking the wrong path?  Is it because others tell us? Is it because the things we experience on the path are painful and feel wrong? Is it because it doesn’t fit in with what is being advocated by the majority of society?  How do we resolve the conflicts between doing that which we believe to be the right thing even when it seems to have negative or disastrous consequences?  I have been on what many consider to be the wrong path for over 16 years in my relationship with Jerry.

Jerry is a very difficult man.  He has a lot of insecurities and easily takes offense.  He often feels marginalized and rejected because his intelligence is considered to be less than, especially by those who easily navigate the rules of grammar and understand the systemic relationships of cause and effect.  He is easily frustrated by things that don’t work as they should or when things don’t meet expectations.  He is five years older than me, but emotionally and psychologically speaking he frequently presents as much younger.  He has difficulty letting go of past events and how they made him feel about himself and his ability to be in relationships.  His love for me and our children, often seems to be more about him feeling loved and accepted, than it is about displaying love and acceptance of us.  He is quite needy and clingy ~ not wanting to go places and do things by himself and feeling personally rejected if I’m not up to doing something with him.  Conversely, he’s also a bit unavailable and unapproachable emotionally.  Ultimately, he wants to be loved and accepted unconditionally, but has difficulty loving and accepting others without condition.

Early on in our relationship, his issues collided with my issues and we would have epic arguments over many subjects and situations.  Power and control issues abounded between us, especially with me being a single mom of two young children.  However, his devotion to all three of us and his desire to be in relationship with us and work through the problems, gave me something to believe in.  He wanted to be a good provider, he wanted to be a father, and he wanted to be a good person.  His impulse control and anger management issues affected us all, and he did his best to deal with them.  He participated in the various classes, therapy and group counseling sessions I asked of him.  We met with pastors and therapists alike.  He showed up and did his best to grow and change.  Sadly, it wasn’t enough and we still had our cycles of conflict that, at times, bordered on and presented as domestic violence.

The thing is, it wasn’t just Jerry’s issues.  I was manipulative, controlling, belittling, and oh so certain that I was right and he was wrong.  I was emotionally detached in the affection department, but more than capable of using my rationality to fire him up and get him going.  I was not without fault in our mutually destructive chaos.  In the era of Domestic Violence Awareness and Intolerance, he appeared as the villain and I as the victim.  That’s what my kids were taught in schools and on television.  It’s the message I got when seeking help for our family.  Because I had learned how to say the right things, take the correct steps, and put on the accepted mask, he became the scapegoat for the problems in our lives.

I would get so overwhelmed with my depression and anxiety, pick a fight with Jerry, usually over my kids, and push every button he had, until I had a reason and excuse to bail.  Then I would seek “help.”  A few days, weeks, or months would pass.  I would cycle through the depression and jump through the hoops, until I was more stable.  Mind you, none of this was conscious on my part, I’m just beginning to understand and recognize certain things about myself.  In that process I would be presented with questionnaires and opportunities to identify Jerry as an abuser.  Some of the things fit, many of them didn’t.  If I was being honest with myself, I couldn’t and didn’t check the boxes that would label him as an abuser and me as a victim, because I realized and believed that part of what makes an abuser is motivation and intent. So, I would open back up to him and let him back into my life.

Society told my kids and me that this was all part of the cycle of abuse and that I was a victim of domestic violence.  So, my kids grew to see me as weak minded and weak willed.  They grew to believe that I cared more for him than for them or for myself.

The thing is a true abuser and perpetrator of domestic violence doesn’t stop or improve, except for brief periods in the cycle, as part of the honeymoon/grooming period to regain the trust and soothe their victim into a false sense of security.  The perpetrator will not ever even pretend to acknowledge that there is anything wrong with him, it’s always someone else’s fault or because of external influences.  The cycle continues until severe, sometimes irreparable or fatal harm is done.  The victim is never able to individuate and choose for herself.  This is not how the relationship I have with Jerry has grown.

Let me tell you something about Jerry, he is devoted to us.  He desperately wants a better relationship with my kids, Marco and LaLa.  He’s determined that our daughter, Luna, will grow up knowing she is loved and valued.  He may not have wanted to hear me when I have told him some hard truths about his role in our relationship and in our kids’ lives, but he did eventually listen.  When he is hurtful, emotionally speaking, he does listen and will, at some point, accept responsibility for his actions in the incident.  It may be slow going and hard won, but it does get there eventually.

According to so much of the “happiness” literature and bumper sticker quotes out there, I should drop Jerry from my life.  After all, he’s not a happy go lucky fella and he tends to require more than a little patience, understanding, and handling.  He falls too easily on the religio-political bandwagon and has a tendency to get just a little brainwashed by the conspiracy theorists and end-time prophecies.  He’s socially awkward and knows how to dampen the mood without even trying, just by being himself.  According to all the feel good about yourself and strive to life a better life mantras out there, I should drop him like a hot potato and I should never have let him back into our lives in the first place.  Tsk, tsk, tsk, shame on you mom.

Jerry is the first and only man to persevere in my life.  He was the first to believe in and support me.  He’s tried to encourage me.  He has tried to provide and be there for children who’s biological fathers abandoned them or failed to make the effort to be involved in their lives.  In his pursuit of doing what was right, he got it wrong in a lot of ways, and still is.  But he’s still showing up and making the effort.  Yes, he makes it hard to love him a lot of the time, but love is more than a feeling ~ it’s action, choice, decision, and effort.  I’m not the easiest person in the world either.  Happiness and being happy are not things that are easy for me.  If you look up angst ridden in the dictionary, my picture would be there, if I allowed a picture to be taken.  My life wouldn’t necessarily be any happier or better if Jerry weren’t in it.

So, I persevere in my journey of self, determined that I am going to continue to work on my relationships with all the people I love and help them to understand that I’m not willing to write any one of them out of my story because they or I are difficult people.  This is the path I have chosen and I cannot believe it is wrong.