Step back to a time when witches were burned at the stake or drowned or pressed to death with rocks. Imagine you have a child who is different from all the others: Your neighbors call your son or your daughter a changeling, an ugly, stupid, or strange child exchanged by some supernatural force for your original child. You rightfully fear for your child’s life. You know, at the very least, the other parents will keep their children away from your child. Your family, your child in particular, will be ostracized, shunned, and endangered by the irrational cruelty of your neighbors in a time when people have to work together and care for one another just to survive.
Step, now, into the present and know with full confidence that something like that could never happen. At least, not in the United States of America. We’re beyond that. We’re socially evolved. We’re post-modern and free.
“Autism, as I see it, steals the soul from a child; then, if allowed, relentlessly sucks life’s marrow out of the family members, one by one.” So wrote Jerry Kartzinel in his foreword to Jenny McCarthy’s bestselling book Louder Than Words, published in 2007. He’s an alternative medical practitioner. She’s an actress. Both are considered autism experts.
Perhaps you think words like that aren’t dangerous.
In 2003, Ray Hemphill, a minister at Faith Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith, suffocated Terrence Cottrell Jr. to death in an attempt to exorcise the demons possessing him. Terrence Cottrell Jr. was an eight-year-old boy with autism. According to Wisconsin court records, Terrence was held down by several members of the congregation, including his own mother, while Hemphill lay on top of him for one and a half to two hours, praying to exorcise the “demons” of autism from the boy.
But maybe that’s just an isolated incident.
In my own life, I’ve endured strangers who have called my children names in the grocery store. I’ve had a psychologist, arguably a scientist, claim, “No family should be burdened with three children with autism.” This psychologist led the behavioral therapy teams for two of my children. Later, she tried to enforce this opinion by concocting stories to report to Child Protective Services, who threatened to remove my children from our custody. Our family has been ostracized and shunned by friends who couldn’t cope with my children’s disabilities. My children have been endangered by people who refused to consider their differences. We’ve been threatened, bullied, and harassed because we respect our children for who they are, as they are.
In 2009, Autism Speaks, an autism research foundation that claims to speak for autism, distributed a video that was written by Billy Mann and directed by Alfonso Cuarón. This video claimed: “I am autism. … I hover around all of you. … I work very quickly. I work faster than pediatric aids, cancer, and diabetes combined. And if you’re happily married, I will make sure that your marriage fails. Your money will fall into my hands, and I will bankrupt you for my own self-gain. I don’t sleep, so I make sure you don’t either…
“I am autism. I have no interest in right or wrong. I derive great pleasure out of your loneliness. I will fight to take away your hope. I will plot to rob you of your children and your dreams.” As this malevolent voice drones on in the background, you see the faces of children with autism. Those children are their “bad guys,” their changelings.
In our society—in our present-day, post-modern, socially-evolved, intellectually-enlightened, and technologically-empowered society—children with autism are abused and neglected in their schools, in their homes, and in their communities. They are drugged, poisoned, restrained, imprisoned, beaten, shocked, tortured, and murdered. They and their autistic behaviors are vilified. People justify years of abuse and neglect in pursuit of something they call “normal,” saying they will do whatever it takes to reclaim their “real” child.
You think it doesn’t happen?
- “Autistic boy’s death at church ruled homicide.” Aug 23, 2006. CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2003/LAW/08/25/autistic.boy.death/.
- Drezner, Todd. April 7, 2011. “Reconsidering the Nature of Autism.” Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/todd-drezner/living-autistic_b_844740.html.
- “Message to Dr. Jerry Kartzinel…” by Mom26Children of What Are They Thinking? blog. Oct 7, 2007. Retrieved from http://survivingmotherhood-mom26children.blogspot.com/2007/10/message-to-dr-jerry-kartzinel.html.
- “Horrific Autism Speaks “I am Autism” ad transcript.” Posted by Changing Perceptions on ASAN blog. Sept 23, 2009. Retrieved from http://autisticadvocacy.org/2009/09/horrific-autism-speaks-i-am-autism-ad-transcript/.
- STATE v. HEMPHILL. “STATE of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Ray Anthony HEMPHILL, Defendant-Appellant.” Aug 15, 2006. Retrieved from http://caselaw.findlaw.com/wi-court-of-appeals/1117310.html