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The Letter

photoIf you’re a special needs parent, you’ve probably seen the letter by now. It’s been making the rounds for a few days. It was written and delivered anonymously to a family in Newcastle, Ontario, in response to their autistic child’s presence in their neighborhood. I’ll link to it, sure, but I won’t quote it at length. I’ll give you a few words from the letter, and you can probably get the drift.

“Nuisance.” “Problem.” “Noise polluting.” “Idiot.” “Retarded.” “Move away.”

“Euthanize.”

Well, there you go. I’m not going to try to generate too much outrage from this, because both the special needs community and the family’s actual neighborhood community have rallied behind this young man. The police ultimately decided there was no hate crime committed, but to their credit, they are continuing to investigate. Once you get past the grotesque letter itself, there’s plenty to celebrate in this story, at least in the response to the letter.

So why is this story so uncomfortable to parents of kids with disabilities?

The truth is, we’ve heard it before. Not like this, certainly, not most of us, anyway. But in quiet, polite ways, we’ve all heard variations. We’ve all watched our kids excluded. I can’t tell you how many special needs parents I’ve spoken to who have admitted that their kids don’t have a single real neurotypical friend, or who’ve never been invited to a birthday party.

Our decisions to mainstream even our most ambulatory and promising kids meet with questions. Not always rude, but almost always calling into question whether these choices are really the right ones for our kids. Much of the time, we suspect the question is really about their kids and about their idea of what a classroom should look like.

I’ve gotten plenty of that, in emails and comments left on my blog and in other places, too. And Schuyler’s disability doesn’t generally manifest itself in loud behaviors. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her have what you might call a meltdown. Her monster doesn’t cause her to be disruptive. It just makes her weird. She’s weird, but she passes. I can only imagine how much worse it is for families whose kids struggle with behaviors that make them more conspicuous to judging eyes.

We are troubled, deeply so, by the letter because in a secret, mostly unacknowledged part of our hearts, when we read “Nobody wants you living here and they don’t have the guts to tell you!”, we can’t help but wonder if that’s true, at least on some level.

In the end, we’re pretty sure it’s not true. Society is changing; more people are entering into authentic relationships with persons with disabilities. We’re pretty sure most of our neighbors don’t want us to move away, and we certainly like to believe that they don’t want us to murder our kids.

But those tiny doubts? Sometimes they surface, and when they do, they don’t feel so tiny.

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2 Comments
  1. Annie
    August 21, 2013 | Reply

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