“The Secret Neuroscientist”
This may sound pathetic or desperately ableist, but oh well, I’m going to say it anyway.
Sometimes we play “A might actually be a secret neuroscientist, and when he’s playing with his dad’s phone, he is conferring with his peers.”
I’ve asked myself and his child study team this for years, and have renewed the vigor of questioning now that he’s old enough for us to talk about prepping for adulthood: have we already decided that his skills lie in vocational tasks?
Because if that’s his ceiling, I’ll run with it with pride. Watch him assemble the best damn pizza boxes. Sort the snazziest socks. Slot those gift cards into the store racks. But I don’t blame myself one bit for wondering, while he’s still a kid—have we asked the right questions of ourselves? And how do we even do that when his opportunities to try new things are so severely limited by a lack of spaces to imagine fresh possibilities?
We keep hearing about the life skills our kids need to master. From buttoning and zipping their clothes, to swallowing pills, to sorting items. They are all important, and, for some of our kids, they are challenging, and will be so forever.
And of course we must look at something other than the negative space of their perceived deficits. These days, A is showing an aptitude for keyboard skills. Of course, we grinned, his neuro colleagues know better than we do how quickly he responds to queries. We asked, and the child study team agreed, that he should spend time on developing said skills. What a generation of autists, truly: some of them may never master pencil skills, but dang, they can tech.
It’s pointless and ableist to bewail the reality of tech in the lives of kids like A. It’s given him speech (through his app), which is so much better than imagining some primordial life of silence for him, just to satisfy the ideal of kids doing cartwheels in idyllic, pastoral scenes. The truth for kids like A is that few people besides us would have played consistently with him even back then. So really, I don’t want to hear anymore about what he ‘should’ be doing instead.
In the blog I’ve linked to below, a fellow mom describes how concerned she felt when her special needs child was made to clean the school cafeteria as part of developing ‘life skills.’ What message does it send in a purportedly inclusive learning environment, when the abled kids don’t have to do these things? What are the abled kids absorbing about their special needs peers’ abilities, and how to think of them in the future? If you are not already thinking of how to teach your kids about blighted opportunities, rather than pity and charity viewpoints, you should be.
We are all ableist, and admitting it is the only way towards a more just future. If you don’t believe that your child’s views regarding disability won’t affect how they vote, whom they hire and fire, and what they will teach their own children, it is more than time to sit with these thoughts.
I let my mind wander into the neuroscientist fantasy as a way of coping with my fear. Someone who can work and function in the world is less likely to be in vulnerable situations in future. Even in a state as relatively progressive as New Jersey, we cannot seem to avoid the abuse of autistic people in residential institutions. My Pollyanna head visualizes a future where he is empowered. Absorbed in work that delights him. Uplifted by a community that sees his presence as the gift that it is. Welcomed everywhere he ventures.
Link to another blog: