I grew up very poor in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. That’s the town next to Destin, smack in the middle of the Redneck Riviera. I did what many poor girls did, I got married and immediately after high school. Which led to a divorce in my early 20s, and navigating life as a poor, young single mom.
I’ve always been good at figuring out how to adapt to fit in. I read Glamour magazines in the school library (I could have never afforded to buy them!), and figured out what I needed to wear to fit in. Once I started working (at 15), I bought my own wardrobe, and glasses and contacts, trying to look like I wasn’t as poor as I was. I masked my accent when I lived in Bermuda. I learned what to say and what not to say by trial and error. I’m pretty good at reading social ques and understanding what would and what would not let me pass as *not poor*. White skin has always given me an extra boost in that area.
I knew my daughter was different from a very early age. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong with her, after all I’d been caring for babies since I was 12 and my favorite brother was born. I would go to the library and research her behaviors as much as one could in the pre-Google days. I was convinced she had autism. I told her pediatrician when she was 4 about my concerns (the children had federal medical assistance because they were under 5). The pediatrician laughed at me and pointed out that she could talk, and assured me that she could not be autistic.
I knew he was wrong. I learned right then and there that the doctors were not going to help me. I had to figure out how to help her get by, how to help her fit in. In the 9th grade, she was finally diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder, and 4 years later Asperger’s Syndrome. But the diagnosis didn’t come before a middle school principal in Tallahassee (we had moved so I could attend FSU) used her power to torment my daughter because she was different.
It has always pained me that I left Florida, but I have always wished I had done it earlier. My daughter got the accommodations she needed in Massachusetts. She’s thriving in the weirdness and cultural familiarity of Austin.
But watching what happened in North Miami this week has brought all of the memories of living with undiagnosed child with autism in Florida rushing back to me. Here’s the TL;DR of what happened this week:
- Hispanic guy with autism leaves his group home with the toy truck he uses to stim.
- His aide (a black man) went to calm him down and get him back to the group home.
- Someone calls 911, reportedly to report a guy with a gun in the road acting suicidal
- The cops show up
- The aide lays on his back on the ground with his hands up. He keeps working with the guy with autism, trying to get him to lay down on the ground as well.
- The aide shouts to the cops that the other guy has autism, and only has a toy truck in his hands.
- The cop shoots the aide as he lies on the ground
- The cop handcuffs the aid and the guy with autism
- The cop later says he really meant to shoot the guy with autism
I honestly don’t have the words for what I feel. I am so angry. I am so sad. I am so scared for MY daughter. I am so disgusted with people with power and authority that refuse to allow for any deviation of the norm. I’m so tired of this.
If you are black or brown, or poor, you are treated like you don’t matter. And god forbid you are one of those things and there is any additional thing that makes you different. It’s obvious that the State of Florida has not changed at all in this regard. If you fall into one of those categories, you are suspected of being lazy, a drain on society as a whole. Anything bad that happens to you is your own fault.
If you are white, and you have never been poor, you may not understand this reality. That’s why you don’t hear the power in the coded words being used in this election cycle. That’s why you are offended when people don’t explicitly state that all lives matter.
It is important to embrace our differences. It is what makes us strong. Just stop all this bullshit, it’s been this way my entire life and I’m just so sick of it. I’m not sure what to **do** about it. If anyone knows how I can reach the autistic man’s mother, please let me know.
In the meantime, I leave you with John Cena. Yeah I can’t believe it either, but this pretty much sums up where I think we should be as a nation.