31 December 2007

Behaviorism on the Playground

If I were to write that parents were specifically instructing their children to be agents of social control to enforce social norms among their peers, I would have accusation after accusation leveled against my sanity.

They would call me paranoid. And I'd likely agree.

While perhaps a grand-scale conspiracy to purposefully train children to behave "typically" and suppress creativity or originality of expression would sound scarier, more Orwellian, I would argue that the system we are placed in does just that, but is more dangerous, as it is not specifically mandated. If it were specifically mandated, then people would recognize what it is.

Kids grow up with the ideas that some kinds of people are inferior. Some kinds of people just don't have a future. Some kinds, even if the individual doesn't have any specific problem with them, are "just begging" to get harassed, "just asking for" a theft. A beating. A rape. A murder.

Some have asked me why there is a need for an Autistic Rights organization, such as the one I have established at my school with the help and inspiration from my friends. It wasn't until the seventh grade that I started to catch on to the fact that this kind of abuse is inherent to the institution.

I started to understand why I had been refused the right to file a report for the attacks committed against me, and then a year later, when expressing my anger at having been refused, given the token privilege of writing a report which would have no real legitimacy, as it was filed approximately six months after the actual incident. "Too bad that you didn't file it last year, or we could've done something about it."

Ha. What a fucking crock. However hard it was for me, even though I had to spend day after day going into the office, being unable to summon words to speak (I had no means to type at the time), and then after a week of sitting and doing nothing, missing the classes which would only bore and torment me (the offenders were in nearly every class), I finally asked to file a report, when I realized this might be an option when seeing a girl come in to file a report after a boy said some nasty things to her, and being flatly refused, even though I told her that the offenses included assault and sexual harassment (in retrospect, sexual assault would also apply).

So how was the response? I told her a couple of the tame things that had been said to me. I told her there were some worse things, but I couldn't say them. She set her pen to one of the pink slips used to call students out of class, and once she had progressed to the fourth one, I asked what she was doing. She replied she was calling them in here, to let them speak for themselves, face to face with me. In utter horror, I fled. Ran out of her office, wandered for who knows how many hours around campus, unable to even find my way back anywhere at this point.

This same counselor was the one who told me that, because I rocked, because I had seizures, because I didn't dress in popular clothing (hand-me-downs, such as plain t-shirts and jeans that hardly fit, don't exactly count as popular among teenage girls, I suppose), because I was rumored to be lesbian, because I didn't talk much, because I was politically considered radically liberal (only because most of the population of the area is very conservative), because I had an odd gait, etc. etc. These were all reasons she told me I had to expect getting beaten up and insulted.

"I never asked to be popular. I just want to have what I am legally entitled to, and that is a safe educational environment." Ignored again. Not that it should have surprised me. She is, after all, the same counselor who told me, "There are three things you don't talk about: religion, politics, and space aliens." (UFOs were a special interest of mine.) To which the other, visiting counselor from the high school replied, "And abortion."

Such strange advice, considering that, outside of a close acquaintance or two, I did not in fact discuss any of these. Though, the first year of high school, I prided myself in engaging in intelligent conversations with my peers on these as well as a number of other subjects. But when it comes right down to it, when you rarely talk, and you never approach people you're not well acquainted with, you don't even get much opportunity to go at length on discussing interests. The only people I got to do that with, really, were my family.

If someone told a woman, "It's your fault you got raped because you're attractive - you have to expect that kind of treatment when you're attractive" wouldn't there be an outrage? Likewise, isn't telling someone that it's their fault they've been assaulted because they're autistic and look weird as much an outrage?

The problem here, is that the social control here implemented is implicit to the people and the institutions that run them. There needs to be watchdogs for this kind of discrimination. Every person should know that their rights in the school or in the workplace or out on the streets should be secured, regardless of neurological status. Such a thing should also cover people who don't have a diagnosis, but who have been made to feel that it is their fault for not conforming.

The main thing to get across here is that there is a difference between a person being unpopular and a person who is having crimes committed against them because of that unpopularity. Such a policy as I wrote isn't some attempt to make everybody feel like they're accepted by everybody else. Such is a noble goal, but it is not a goal that can be attained by passing a law. Attaining acceptance is the job of advocacy. The job of laws is legal protection.

If such a law were in place, I would not have been petrified night after night of what punishment the next day I might face for being who I cannot help but be - who I wouldn't want an alternative but to be. Such a law would mean that, while I know it is hard to be part of an "unwanted" class, a burden to the normal, "deserving" people, at least I will have assurance that it is really, truly not my fault.

The problem here is access. Students, particularly disabled students, need a clear route by which to access the safe education they are legally entitled to, and by consequence to the safe existence to which they are morally entitled. Just like we run tapes and distribute brochures to educate students about sexual harassment and their rights, we should actively reach out to students who are autistic or otherwise disabled, different, or considered damaged.

Until then, we will always have students providing a negative stimulus, and teachers and counselors reinforcing, and regardless of capacity or desire for change the students at the hands of such treatment will forever remain clinging to the chainlink fence in hopes of escaping to the other side.

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