Disclaimer: I don’t care where you stand on the vaccine/autism issue.

I have friends on both sides of this heated debate and I have friends who are right down the middle.
And if I dislike you, it likely has nothing to do with your opinion on this subject and everything to do with you being a self-righteous jerk.

I believe as autism families, we all have our own truths as to how our child’s diagnosis manifested; what we saw, what we heard, what we experienced. I’m never going to discredit your experience because that’s not my place. Plus, I’m too busy living my very busy, very overwhelming, very intense, and very unique autism life with my own child to devote any time to trying to prove or disprove what YOU feel is YOUR truth.

What I will NOT stand for is someone approaching my son, dramatically nodding their head in pity and exclaiming feverishly, for all the world to hear, “Those #$&*ing vaccines.”

Don’t.

Don’t diminish my son’s existence like that. Don’t look at him like there’s nothing there. Like he doesn’t matter. Like he’s a statistic and nothing else. Don’t look at him like he’s a victim and then look at me like being his mom makes me a victim too. He is a living, breathing, joyful, amazing presence in my life. He matters. He is NOT to be pitied. He is to be respected. He is to be given opportunities to flourish and grow and coexist peacefully and happily in a world that’s just as much his as anyone else’s. He is to be provided with the means to become as independent as possible, as safe as possible, as educated as possible.

Pity doesn’t do any of those things. Pity replaces opportunity and respect with ignorance and inaction. Pity prevents progress. Pity gives you an excuse to stay uneducated about the real challenges and discrimination special needs people face each and every day. Pity makes you part of the problem.

My son doesn’t need your pity.

He needs you to stop staring at him like he’s from outer space. He needs you to pull your head out of your ass long enough to become informed and active. He needs you to keep your opinions to yourself unless those opinions involve all the ways special needs individuals continue to be marginalized by our society and all the ways you intend to help eradicate that.

I don’t know why Andrew has autism. I don’t. But he does. And he’s here. And even if I knew for sure, it wouldn’t change how I feel about him or how I feel the world should treat him or what I believe will help him succeed in life. He’s alive and fabulous and stubborn and funny and determined and I swear to God, if you ever come up to him like that again, and look at him like that again, and shake your head at him like that again,
the only victim in our vicinity

will be you.

 

***I know there is a lot of information out there right now regarding a potential whistleblower from the CDC and the autism-vaccine debate. That’s not what this blog post is about, so please don’t turn it into that. This post is about the way our children are reduced to nearly nothing by people who look at them as merely shells of real human beings. If you are my friend, and you believe your child was injured by a vaccine, I will hug you and listen to you and believe you. If you are my friend and you believe vaccines had nothing to do with your child’s diagnosis but you wish you had something tangible to cling to, I will hug you and listen to you and believe you. Regardless of where we each stand on this topic, I know we can all agree that there is much work to be done in the way our children are perceived and treated by society, and that’s a subject I’m happy to get into any time of day, with anyone.***

 

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A Letter to an Impolite Cowboy

by Jo on July 10, 2014

Dear Impolite Cowboy:

I saw you on the track this morning, wearing your giant hat, walking your tiny dog, sweating through your wrinkled flannel, and I thought nothing of you; just another passerby, enjoying the same space, the same sun, as humans often do.

I jogged towards you, my favorite song pulsating in my ears, my shins sore, my skin hot, my gait slower than some, but I didn’t care because this is where I’m learning to leave it, to pound it out on the pavement, to free myself from fear and give away the guilt and embrace the pain because it’s the good kind and not the kind that threatens to unravel me from the inside out. This is where I’m learning to let go and I don’t care if I go slow.

I felt your eyes before I saw them, and when I finally met your gaze, you were looking at me, past me, through me, reducing me to the rolls beneath my breasts, the extra skin along my arms, the awkward tilt of my hips and before I could pass you, I saw you shake your head and announce loud and clear:

“That’s gonna take a lifetime.”

I made sure I was far enough away that you couldn’t see me anymore before I let my shoulders heave, before I let your words shove their way inside, sink in and saturate me, before I reduced myself to nothing more than the ugliness of a perfect stranger.

“That’s gonna take a lifetime.”

I knew what you meant and even my cells felt fat and unworthy; this big body of mine, the one I’ve used and abused, whether with booze or Nutella, would take a lifetime to “fix” and make acceptable in your piercing, judgmental eyes.

And then I thought of all the things worth the effort of a lifetime:

Loving my husband

Raising my children

Staying sober

Advocating for individuals with special needs

Forgiveness

Acceptance

Finding peace with mortality

Faith

and

ME.

You’re right. It IS going to take me a lifetime.  A lifetime of hits and misses, a lifetime of outsmarting the excuses that seem to linger alongside my good intentions, a lifetime of convincing myself otherwise whenever I want to give up because the voice in my head is no kinder than yours.

But I can’t think of a better way to invest my lifetime than on myself.

It only took a few seconds before I realized you didn’t have the power to make me cower unless I gave it to you, and so I straightned this imperfect body of mine, turned my music up, put my anthem on repeat, and ran, purging your words and crushing them beneath my feet.

I’m gonna remember you for a long time, but not in the way you might think.

I’m gonna remember the day some jackass in an oversized hat tried to tear me down and it only took a moment for me to realize that I didn’t need to give a shit. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s some serious progress right there.

The kind that often takes a lifetime to achieve.

Which makes me think I can’t wait to see what I accomplish next.

Sincerely,

The chick wearing spandex because it’s a free country, who blew past you and made you eat her dust (and can’t wait to do it again tomorrow).

 

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It’s Not Autism’s Fault Other People Suck

“While I do love my son, I wish we hadn’t had him…. Autism is not a life, it is an existence that hurts everyone involved. I had a retirement to look forward to, now I have a child to take care of until I die and then the government will have him. How is that [...]

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How Autism Has Made Me Aware of More Than Just Autism

It’s Autism Awareness Month again, and since Andrew was diagnosed with autism in March of 2004, this year we mark our 10th Anniversary of being very aware of autism. I could write another post – as I have done in the past -about the various manifestations of autism in our everyday life and the unique [...]

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I’m Not Scared of Autism. I’m Scared that YOU Are.

The CDC just announced the latest autism statistics this morning. 1:68 children are diagnosed with autism. To understand the numbers, you have to understand the many variables at play. First, the data was collected in 2010 using a survey of children residing in 11 states. The previous number, 1:88, was based on a 2008 survey. [...]

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Behold: The Evil iPad at Work!

Behold: The Evil iPad Mini Hard at Work, Giving my Son a Voice from Jo Ashline on Vimeo. Need more info on why I posted this video? Read all about it!

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So I just finished reading an article on Huffington Post entitled “10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12,” and thanks to author Cris Rowan’s compelling arguments, I’ve removed all of the devices from the Ashline household in the hopes that it’s not too late for my precious [...]

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What Did You Think I Would Do? Stay Quiet?

You hear about it, over and over again, until it’s no longer shocking. Just incredibly sad. You imagine what you would do if it happened to your kid. But you never actually believe that it would, because, how could it? You’re vigilant, involved, dedicated, educated, aware. You volunteer, you show up to meetings with cookies [...]

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Me.

I’m writing a book. I’ve been writing it since 2009 actually. You may be thinking to yourself, “That seems like an awfully long time to be writing a book, Jo,” and you would be right, so let me clarify. What I mean by “I’ve been writing a book,” is “I’ve been sitting on my couch [...]

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Today, fear wins.

I’m supposed to be getting ready. I’m meeting a fellow autism mom at 1. Instead, I’m sitting at my kitchen table, my heart aching as I try to process the news about Avonte Oquendo. Remains which were found near the school where he vanished on October 4th, 2013 were confirmed to be his by the [...]

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