The Lines We Draw: It's human nature, I think, to draw distinctions that keep us on the safe side of a situation. We look desperately for things that the unfortunate did differently so we can feel assured that their fate won't befall us. We try to keep our families safe by separating them from those we deem unsafe. We judge others to avoid having to judge ourselves.
Parents of kids with special needs sure know the feeling of being on the wrong sides of other people's lines. You can see that imagined boundary every time someone denies your child inclusion, every time judging eyes fall on you in church or the library or a restaurant, even those times when someone tells you what a superlative specimen of parenting you are or how worthy you are of blessings. In all these scenarios, it is clear that there is an us and a them, and you are not the us. And even if you consider the us-es a bunch of stuck-up entitled losers, it hurts to be a them.
You'd think we'd find some solidarity with other special-needs parents, our partners in them-ness. And yet ... human nature, it is hard to overcome. Because even within our fellowship of outcasts, we still draw lines. I see the lines forming every time someone whose child has issues takes pains to point out that this kid is bright (not, you know, like those kid with intellectual disabilities, God bless them). I saw the line running through my son's first-grade self-contained special-education class when one mother huffed at me that her son didn't belong in a classroom with my son. There was an us there, but my boy and I were not on that side of the line. I saw the line running through the posts of the e-mail support group for parents of kids adopted from Russia that I belonged to in my early days of raising my kids -- between the parents of kids with medical problems and the parents of kids with mental-health problems, or the parents of kids with mild behavioral problems and the parents of kids with severe behavioral problems. The judgment was quick and the claiming of malicious intent was quicker. Even within a special-needs community, we get out our pieces of chalk and draw our lines between those who understand and those who will not get it, or those who have real problems and those who only think they do, or those who know how to parent and those who are creating their children's problems -- every line empowering to some and alienating to others.
I thought about this line-drawing again when reading the responses from members of the autism community regarding allegations that the Sandy Hook shooter had Asperger syndrome. On the one hand, the response was an eloquent refutation of society's tendency to draw lines -- well, he had Asperger syndrome, he's not like us, all those people with autism are dangerous. On the other hand, it struck me how many of those responses took pains to point out that "autism is not a mental illness." Which is ... drawing a line, no? Saying, if unintentionally, "Don't group us with them." Surely it's no more okay to group all people with mental illness into a "might shoot you, they're crazy!" pile, but many of those who wrote about this issue were careful to make it specifically about autism, because that's their side of the line. Can you really blame people for drawing lines when you're busily drawing your own?
Perhaps a resolution to consider for 2013 is to pick a disability issue on the other side of a line from you to champion. Rebut nasty comments about kids with food allergies even if that's not your child's thing. Tell people to stop using the R-word even if your child doesn't have an intellectual disability. Advocate for inclusion for kids with different special needs than yours. If we can't blur those lines between us, we're never going to be able to get the folks who see us as one big them to do it.