The [A] Word: [I]gnorance

Josh, pulled out of Acton swimming baths in London placed face-down by seven officers who restrained him, shackled and handcuffed him.

Andrew Young, killed by Lewis Gill with a single punch in Bournemouth.

Faruk Ali, beaten by two police officers while helping men collect rubbish because he looked suspicious.

Man charged with beating an autistic boy, 16, at a Florida house party.

I can name each and every situation I’ve been in where I could tell that people were afraid of my brother.

Just recently, in August, I took him to our local bakery to get him crisps and iced tea. He got so excited, he stormed in gave me what he wanted and waited for me to get my stuff and pay. He ran up and down, shook his arms, shook his head and made ‘noises’, people stared but we didn’t even notice. Then, as we were waiting in line, I asked him to stand by me and he did; he still shook his head and hands, jumped up and down a bit, gave me hugs and kisses. The cashier then thought she would share that she “..was frightened that he would hurt someone in the shop“. I’m not sure what possessed her to tell me this, maybe she had a death wish; either way it made me want to hit her. Even after all these years, all the insane, unsubstantiated assumptions we’ve heard, my first instinct was to jump over the counter and hurt her; it never goes away. It breaks my heart that people look at him, my gentle, smiling, beautiful brother thinking that he is dangerous. I didn’t respond with “I’m sorry, he’s autistic”, I just explained that he was excited because it was crisps and iced tea day. She went on to speak to him softly and ask him about how his day was, which he completely ignored, but she tried and when we went in there again she remembered his name. It made me think, made me realise that it wasn’t an attack it was a ,misunderstandingautism-children-1-68-001, an ignorant comment made in passing with no harm or insult intended. But when you’ve had people yelling at your brother on the plane to quiet down, throwing him out of supermarkets because he was rearranging chocolates, grabbing children and dragging them away from him, pinching him or touching him just to agitate him and then refuse it and blame it on Autism, when you have teachers threatening to call the police on him – that is your go-to reaction.

When I read stories like the above, I feel the fury of Faruk Ali’s family; I feel the devastation of Andrew’s mother; I feel the paralysing helplessness that Josh’s dad felt; I feel the fear the 16-year old boy felt when he was being dragged across the floor by his hair. I feel it because we have all, at one point or another, been in a situation where our children were victims of ignorant behaviour.

“Control your child”, “What is he doing?”, “Can you stop screaming?”, “Make him stop”, “Is he dangerous?”, “What’s wrong with him?” the list goes on.

Helping with rubbish collection was something he did every Thursday, it was his routine. It probably soothed him in a way, to get rid of rubbish for whatever reason be it cleanliness or to get the off the pavement; it made him happy.  His weekly routine was disrupted by two police officers who decided he seemed suspicious.

Josh, was pinned down, handcuffed and terrified by police in 2008 for “refusing” to leave a swimming pool; he became transfixed with the water, he didn’t want to go. Instead of getting his carers to help the police decided violence was the way to go. Even if he wasn’t on the spectrum, is that the way you want your officers to react to children? His treatment was found inhuman and degrading; “But when they brought him home, he ran upstairs and crouched in a corner, sobbing uncontrollably. He wouldn’t sleep for nights. As a parent, that tears you apart“. It tears me apart, I gasp for air just reading it. It haunts me that this might happen to my brother who loves swimming too, and like a lot of children on the spectrum, he sometimes gets stuck in places, in the movement of the water, the sound of a machine, the feeling of something and has trouble moving on. It gives me nightmares that I might not be there to stand up for him; that even if I am, I probably won’t get to him in time; I probably won’t have the words to explain myself – I’ll just attack.

We are very much aware of the level of fear and ignorance of which the general public is capable of. But we fight so hard, and our kids do too, that when we encounter it, it can turn into a violent defence. Behaving “oddly” or “weirdly” can turn a look into a stare, finger-pointing to an attack and whispering into conspiracy, it can turn a comment into an assault – that’s terrifying for us.

Andrew Young’s mother is someone I thought about for weeks. He had Asperger’s syndrome and was killed by a single punch after pointing out to someone that they shouldn’t cycle on the pavement because it was dangerous. Andrew died because he thought it was important to follow rules; he died because his killer thought he was menacing; he died because we live in a society that encourages violence and ignorance, a society that nurtures subconscious insecurities and a false sense of entitlement and makes our nightmares came true. He was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison; message sent?

You think its stating the obvious when we say autistic people behave differently.

We need to say it;

We need to repeat ourselves over and over again because we need it to reach as many people as possible;

We need to make people aware that Autism isn’t a disease;

We need people to learn about it because we don’t have a cure yet;

We need people to understand more about it because you will come across someone on the spectrum sooner or later and it might be our son, our daughter, our brother.

I could keep listing cases. But I think we need to focus on police training, academic training for identifying someone with a disability, or a mental illness; this isn’t a problem just for people with Autism. Authorities need to be sensitive and educated enough to deal with disabled people on a day to day basis. Schools need to educate the society of tomorrow about acceptance; is it that absurd?

Shine light on discrimination against the disabled, institutional racism and the victim-blaming of sexual assaults; not just by police, but by civilians as well. What brighter light to shine than that of education?

We need you.

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One thought on “The [A] Word: [I]gnorance

  1. Pingback: Seventeen Candles  | Just a boy

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