Parenting is an important life activity for many people-with and without disabilities. Many adults with serious mental illnesses (SMI) are parents. They can be good parents with the appropriate supports in place. However, as this research shows, parents with SMI may face scrutiny from the child welfare system. In this study, researchers looked at data from more than 28,000 U.S. parents. They found that parents with SMI were eight times more likely than parents without SMI to be contacted by Child Protective Services (CPS) and 26 times more likely to have their children removed from their homes. Fathers with SMI were at especially high risk of losing custody of their children. Although CPS plays an important role in protecting children from abuse or neglect, false-positive reports can have devastating effects on both children and parents. The researchers point out that parents with SMI may not seek needed mental health services for fear of being reported to CPS. They recommend a greater focus on parenting supports for people with SMI. They also recommend that we pay more attention to structural challenges faced by parents with SMI and their families, such as poverty, under-employment, and a lack of access to housing and healthcare.
“Imagine sitting at a restaurant with your friends, and the waiter comes and asks your friends for your order, leaving you sitting there looking silly, when you wanted to order for yourself. It’s kind of like that.”
“Would you want to sit down and play with toys for an hour when you really, really didn’t want to? No? Then don’t do the same to others.”
“If you start walking on eggshells, or alternatively, applauding every little step when you are around someone with disabilities, it’s going to come off as patronising. Just act normal and be yourself – that’s what they are doing anyway.”
“You decide what you want to do in your life – how about extending the same right to your fellow human beings?”
This week, I thought I’d leave you with this simple but informative article. Chances are, all of us have either unintentionally done one of these 11 things, or had one of them done to us. Let’s all be more mindful of how we treat one another.
On April 19, 2009, I was finishing my first year of grad school. At the end of a stressful weekend working on first-year final presentations, my classmate, Jason, took me out to dinner in downtown Boulder. We had a very pleasant sushi meal, which was made slightly awkward when Jason read the menu aloud-and some of the fancier sushi rolls had sexualized names. But, we got through it. And then, when he dropped me off at home, he kissed me goodnight.
I had dated a few blind guys before, but a sighted guy had never shown the slightest interest in me. I won’t embarrass Jason on this blog, but I will embarrass myself a little by admitting that after he left, I started dancing excitedly around my apartment. Mostly because I really liked him and had been staying late on campus just to spend more time with him. But also because I had thought that perhaps only blind men would reciprocate my affections.
Recently, Dr. Phil hosted an “inter-abled” couple on his show-the man in the couple has a spinal cord injury and requires regular caregiving. Dr. Phil got himself on the wrong side of the disability community by asking the woman why she wanted to date someone “in a wheelchair.” Then he declared, “You can be his lover or you can be his caretaker, but you can’t be both…It won’t work, 100 out of 100 times this won’t work.” This has prompted a firestorm of response from successful, happy inter-abled couples-using the hashtag #100outof100.
Jason and I have been together for ten years. After sharing four different apartments, today we are moving into our first home that we own. (Well, technically we own 51% of it; the bank still has the other 49%). In celebration of the happiest decade of my life, and the permanence we have achieved together, I want to jump on the #100outof100 bandwagon. Here are some photos of us through the years.
“In writing this, what did strike me was not the nitty-gritty of daily accommodation or the nature of my own deaf experience; it was simply self sufficiency, an awareness of what I need. I think this is a very normal experience for anyone who has a disability – we live in a world that is currently built for people other than us. To function and live our lives in this world. we must develop rather astonishing degrees of awareness about our selves and our spaces.”
This week on the Weekly Wisdom blog, I want to share another great post from one of my favorite bloggers, Meriah Nichols. Meriah wrote this post to answer some questions from a blind person about D/deafness in everyday life. From accessible alarms for D/deaf people, to learning how D/deaf people order food in restaurants and know when their babies are crying, she gives us a glimpse into the diversity of alternative techniques allowing D/deaf people to participate in all facets of life.
“ABA is not ‘dog training for children.’ I would never treat a dog that way.”
“Dog trainers don’t talk about systematically altering behaviour as if the dog weren’t a thinking, feeling, sentient being.”
“A good dog trainer doesn’t extinguish behaviours which improve the dog’s mental health and happiness. But an ABA practitioner may not think twice before doing this to a human child.”
“Dog trainers understand that dogs need to chew and bark and dig, but ABA therapists don’t understand that autistic children need to repeat words and sentences, flap their hands, and sit quietly rocking in a corner when things get too much.”
“Now understand that sessions like this are not a couple of hours a week. ABA therapists recommend that small children between 2 and 5 go through 40 hours a week of this type of learning.”
“I know that if I ask someone if they think it is abusive to remove a child’s only way of contacting their parents, or to ignore a child in distress, or to force a child into a situation that they find uncomfortable/painful, or refuse to help a child when they are suffering and overwhelmed, they will say yes. As long as I don’t mention that the child is autistic, anyway.”
“They don’t think about how this person will learn to stand up for themselves or advocate for their needs when they were systematically trained in preschool never to disagree, speak up, or disobey.”
In autistic self-advocacy circles, April is Autism Acceptance Month. It’s a month to celebrate neurodiversity, in stark contrast to the grim portrayals of autism that characterize “Autism Awareness” and the annual “Light It Up Blue” campaign.
So, on this first Friday of Autism Acceptance Month, I want to highlight autistic views on the most popular “evidence-based” therapy for autistic children in the United States and Canada, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Simply put, pure ABA uses external reinforcement or punishment to change outward behavior, and it is often used to make autistic people act in more neurotypical ways. I would urge readers who have any connection with an autistic person to read these two articles written by autistic people. The first, written by an autistic dog trainer, examines the spurious comparison often made between ABA and dog training. Her argument is that the discipline of dog training is more concerned about the inner well-being of its subjects than is the discipline of ABA. She cites the codes of ethics in both disciplines, as well as common practices in both dog training and ABA, to support her assertion. The second article includes video clips from real ABA interventions that, on the surface, may seem harmless or even positive (e.g., teaching a student to tolerate a grocery-store environment). However, the author emphasizes the coercive nature of the interactions between therapist and child, and the emphasis on meeting the therapist’s demands over meeting the needs of the child.
ABA may be “evidence-based” in that it leads to outcomes desired by its practitioners. But, autistic voices call into question whether or not the outcomes of ABA are truly positive from the perspective of its recipients. Any intervention, including ABA, must be evaluated according to the benchmarks set by the population who has the most to gain-or lose-from it. It is time to center autistic people in the evaluation of autism therapies, including ABA.