Friday, March 23, 2007


"What if he's just an asshole?"

I'll never forget the line, nor the impact it's had on me all these years later.

Lina and Jon and I were discussing an issue of some import - an issue that would affect the lives of other people. They had discussed it thoroughly and were coming to me to add some fresh air to their discussion, to get another perspective. As I listened, I remembered.

The movie was called, "Nuts' and it was a forgettable Barbra Streisand movie with an unforgettable scene. In it a psychiatrist was giving testimony as to her character's sanity. Babs stands up and delivers the line to the judge.

"What if he's just an asshole?"

What, she was asking, if his opinion isn't because of his expertise, his book learning, his experience ... what if his opinion is because of his power, his temper and the fact that he's an asshole?

There are times when I'm writing reports that will affect someone's freedom of movement ... I stop and examine myself. Am I just being an asshole ... am I doing it because I can? It's a harsh question to ask oneself but one of fundamental importance. This maybe one of the most important tools in the therapists arsenal. (Maybe that's why they call it an aresenal.)

Power is more addictive than heroin.

Power is more habit forming than nicotine.

Power is more likely to turn human into asshole than drugs or drink.

And it's not just me. And others like me.

I remember talking to a parent of a young man with a disability. This young guy didn't want life in a sheltered industry. He wanted to be out in the world. He wanted to try real life. But Mom had her mind set. He would be protected ... damn it. He would be protected from life, from experiences and from his own mind. He was shattered by both her decision and her lack of faith in him. He didn't know what he did wrong - other than the accident of his birth.

In polite dispute with her she looked at me and said with finality, "I am his mother."

I thought to myself, "No, you're just an asshole."

As I'm still living, you know I didn't say it.

But it helped me keep perspective. This wasn't about parenting or about love or about care ... it was about power, pure and simple. You know how I know? Love is the opposite of tyranny. Parenting is the opposite of control.

I listened first to Lina and Jon and then joined in the discussion - after checking first to see if the 'asshole impulse' had been firmly kept in place.

It had.

It was now safe to speak.


Anonymous said...

don't know the family circumstances that you are talking about with the young man in your blog, but as the mother of a child with SEVERE autism i can say that protection is a kindness. ever seen your child pushed down in the sand by another child and then held there while another kid kicked sand in her face because she was "a retard"? the "village" it takes to raise a child does not have an interest in anyone with special needs (i hate that term btw). moms of these kids are used to their children being bullied and hurt and singled out. how ever much it might hurt to miss out on an experience; it hurts less than what the real ass holes in this world have in store for them.

Anonymous said...

I am also the mother of a child with severe autism.
I can relate to the pain of watching your child treated like this, we have certainly experienced it. There are many assholes out there and it is not just kids with special needs that receive this kind of treatment. It is part of life unfortunately and it hurt just as much to see my typical son treated this way.
I can "protect" my son from the world and "protect" the world from my son. I can eliminate all the risk.
I can lock him in his room for the rest of his life. This is NOT the life I want for him and NOT the life he wants for himself. He deserves much better.
Instead of parents trying to protect their children by isolating them and removing all risk, we need to fight the assholes and create the kind of world we want them to live in. It's not a perfect world, never will be. Me must try, I will try!!
I owe it to my son and yours.


Anonymous said...

As a deaf person, I, too, have had the experience of being "protected" from certain "assholes." I have had interpreters who refrained from interpreting certain things that they thought would annoy me or make me uncomfortable. And I've had hearing peers withhold information from me too because they thought it would "worry" me. When I found out about it later, I was far more upset and hurt and angry at being overly "protected" than I would have been if they had simply given things to me straight. And it did far more damage too: it really hurt my ability to trust in the particular people who did this to me, and it hurt my ability to learn to trust in other hearing people. If they withheld this information from me in the name of so-called "protection", what else have they withheld?

It also harmed my ability to make INFORMED judgments that I could have used to REALLY protect myself from more serious kinds of harm than merely being "uncomfortable." (No, nothing more serious did happen. But it could have if I had made certain decisions based on assumptions I made without some really critical information that would have drastically altered my judgment on what kind of behavior would be "safe.")

Okay, this is different from the kind of protection that the first "anonymous" above is talking about. But I hope that it does go to the general point that sometimes protection, carried to extremes, can do far more damage than whatever harm a person might experience from being allowed to take risks. When you "protect" above and beyond the more basic, immediate needs for protection, and when you protect too often, in too many areas of a person's life, then that can ultimately destroy a person's self esteem. It denies them the possibility of figuring out their own way to solve problems--including serious problems involving "assholes" who want to harm them. It also makes them think that the people protecting them have no faith in them. Whereas, if they're allowed to take some risk -- and YES allowed to have some negative experiences with assholes to the extent that THEY (not you) feel able to manage, they'll come out stronger for the experience. (This is assuming the correct balance between too much to handle and too little. Of course, this is always the challenge for any parent.)

NONE of this is to say that you let people beat up your kid. But it might mean allowing him to choose to accept the RISK that someone MIGHT beat him up if he were to be a little more independent. If HE says that risk is worth the trade off, then who are we to disagree? We ALL take a certain amount of risk every time we leave home. Just crossing the street, or driving a car is risky. We pursue these activities anyway because RISK is not the same as actual immediate threat, and the benefits are generally well worth the risks.

I'm sorry, but I can't agree that it automatically, or necessarily, "hurts less" to miss out on certain experiences than it does to deal with certain ass holes of the world. If someone were standing right here right now with a knife at my throat, that's one thing: I'd certainly hope that someone would try to protect me. But I wouldn't want to be permanently denied fundamental choices that other people take for granted just because the odds are maybe higher for me that I will one day be confronted with that hypothetical person with the hypothetical knife (read, any general serious danger, whether posed by a person or general life).

Anonymous said...

Protection in and of itself is neither good nor bad...context is everything. What is the person being protected from, why are they being protected, who is doing the protecting, what is the motivation for the protecting...all important determinants in understanding what is going on.

The point as I understand it is that protection *can* be motivated in selfishness, selfishness that is made possible by a type of power imbalance that is unique to people with disabilities (and particularly people with intellectual disabilities) and those who control them.

"Those who control them."

Just like prisoners.

Let's look at the actual story Dave was telling...if this was anyone but a person with an intellectual disability the headlines would surely scream "adult male placed in forced labour camp despite having committed no crime."

This guy wants to leave his sheltered workshop. Allowing him to pursue other options is not the same as leaving him in the sandbox to get beaten. To him, the sheltered workshop *is* the sandbox! And every day he is forced to go there, that's more sand in his face. And that's what his future holds - day after day after day.

The mom in Dave's story is an asshole because she is putting her own needs above everything else. She is being unreasonable in a way that hurts her son. She is kicking sand in his face and he has no way to make it stop.

She is his mother. And in this case, she is also his warden. And that's an abuse of power.

Anonymous said...

I'll try and remember the asshole check.

anonymous 1, avoiding hurt is a point, but it isn't the whole point. sometimes learning and growing matter more.

Anonymous said...

where are you getting that he was leaving his sheltered workshop? the young man wanted to go out into the world and live "unsheltered". most parents provide support and guidance to their children for quite some time after they move out. is there a parent out there that doesn't say "be careful", ""i hope you're not hanging with that crowd", "don't drink and drive", "go to church this sunday" to their "adult" children? not now doesn't mean not ever. it means show me you are capable of managing at this level of independence and then we'll talk again.

Anonymous said...

>Anonymous said...
>where are you getting that he was >leaving his sheltered workshop?

Well, the story says that he didn't want "life in a sheltered industry" and from that and the rest of the story, seems to me the idea was that he was in a type of sheltered workshop and wanted to pursue opportunities elsewhere. Maybe I am misunderstanding the meaning of the word industry, not sure, but my comments are operating on the premise that it is about a workplace situation - sheltered vs real world.

And as for "be careful" that is a statement that to me says "you are taking a risk and I am supporting you to do that, but as a parent I am anxious about your safety so I remind you to be careful."

That to me has little to do with exercising parental power to say "you will stay in a sheltered industry because I say so."

Anonymous said...

ahhh, and to me "be careful" translates as "last warning before i further restrict the limits because you do not seem to notice you are courting danger". that is for my nt children.

i think the real difference in perspective is that my autistic daughter will never even know what she is missing out on. her level of functioning is somewhere around 2 1/2 (this after 6 1/2 years of therapy/intervention/etc).

even her school is not a great resource. my daughter has come home from school with a bite mark on her rear end "don't know anything about it", with a bruise on her face "didn't see it" and currently has a scrape across her back that is 8 inches by 3 inches "yes we noticed that. our policy is not to drag children across the parking lot". not so comforting.

the "protections" in place don't work for non-verbal children. how can they report abuse, an accident, anything? i spend my free time worrying about what will happen when i am no longer around to document and fight for what she needs. i hope to keep her safe and happy but even now i give myself a "c". when i am gone and the powers that be decide that she has the freedom to be with nt peers; makes me sick to think about it. what is the song "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose".

Anonymous said...

>Anonymous said...
>ahhh, and to me "be careful" >translates as "last warning >before i further restrict the >limits because you do not seem to >notice you are courting danger".

Hm, I don't think that's the most common meaning of that phrase, but I could be wrong :-)

>i think the real difference in >perspective is that my autistic >daughter will never even know >what she is missing out on. her >level of functioning is somewhere >around 2 1/2 (this after 6 1/2 >years of >therapy/intervention/etc).

2 1/2 is better than 2, and at some level is there any doubt that it does make a difference?

I know of families that celebrate their kid going from a .5 to a .7 and I don't think it is about the kid knowing what they are or are not missing out on. None of us would know what we were missing if we were locked in a cage in the basement from birth.

>even her school is not a great >resource.

That's a pretty common feeling, among parents of all sorts of kids. A school is a very big institution with a lot of goals and motivations some of which have little to do with improving the quality of life or even meeting the learning needs of individual students.

>my daughter has come home from >school with a bite mark on her >rear end "don't know anything >about it"

Consider calling 911 and reporting this serious assault, the school might adopt a less carefree attitude in future.

> with a bruise on her >face "didn't see it" and >currently has a scrape across her >back that is 8 inches by 3 >inches "yes we noticed that. our >policy is not to drag children >across the parking lot". not so >comforting.

No, definitely not.

>the "protections" in place don't >work for non-verbal children. how >can they report abuse, an >accident, anything? i spend my >free time worrying about what >will happen when i am no longer >around to document and fight for >what she needs. i hope to keep >her safe and happy but even now i >give myself a "c". when i am gone >and the powers that be decide >that she has the freedom to be >with nt peers; makes me sick to >think about it. what is the >song "freedom's just another word >for nothing left to lose".

I hear you, but I ask this question - how is a strategy of avoidance going to impact on the possibility of future success when that which is being avoided is an inevitable reality? Strategies need to be developed to deal with it - including if necessary legal and law enforcement involvement in establishing the rights of this individual to attend school and go anywhere else in the community without fear of being bitten in the ass or otherwise assaulted.

If we look back through history at any population that was mistreated as a group (be it because of race, religion, etc) progress was only made by confronting the inequity, despite the short term pain required for long term gain. A policy of avoidance has not, to my knowledge, let to advancement or improvement in any such situation and won't work in the case of people with disabilities either - no matter how severe.

rickismom said...

I think that it is wrong to call this mom such a name. It may be that she is wrong (I am not judging, as I do not know the situation), but I can understand that fear, not power is what drives her.
What I think needs to be said to such people is to point out that if not TRAINED and guided to more independence, the young adult is very likely to one day try to act independent on his own (running away?), WITHOUT prior training, and that is MUCH more dangerous.