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Challenge: Kids with Special Needs

Why is it so hard to include autism in the fight for justice?

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While it is imperative that we peacefully protest on behalf of young Black men and women against police brutality, it has been hard for me to get behind the movement as they continue to leave one key group out of the conversation.

I am a mother of three children, two boys and one girl. My oldest son and middle child, my daughter, are both on the spectrum. My youngest baby is neurotypical. Watching the chaos unfold in our nation, I have become almost irate as I continue to see the topic of Black males with autism or any mental health issue left in the dust. As bad as we want justice for our young Black men and women we should want to fight for our young Black men and women with enhanced needs with great fervor.

Black males who are neurodiverse are overlooked for the same reasons Black people are discriminated against: Because they are different. But I would like to suggest that the devaluing and rejection of human beings with special needs is far more sinister than just hatred because of the color of one’s skin. It is a complete and total disregard for a large community that processes the world much differently than we do. And this difference in processing makes them extremely vulnerable. Like sheep to the slaughter.

You don’t have to look far; you can find it anywhere. Anytime you encounter someone with an intellectual disability, you are sure to find plenty of people of all different shades who don’t want anything to do with them. While it is now illegal to refuse service to anyone based on their skin color I still find myself giving the stink eye to the cashier at Chick-fil-A for not answering my son because he’s not comfortable with him or his off the wall questions about their management and fire alarm system. The blatant disregard for our brother, sister, father mother, uncle, aunt, grandpa, grandma, niece, or nephew with enhanced needs is appalling. People do not understand, and they don’t want to.

Now here we are in the year 2020, smack-dab in the middle of a spectacular opportunity. The world is burning. People are angry, but people are also listening. But as the voices have finally rung loud enough to be heard, the most vulnerable of our citizens are still not a topic of discussion. In fact, they are not even a thought. There is a desperate demand for justice and without any conversation, without bringing everything to the table and with great haste a decision was made. Defund the police. This may serve one group, but it does not serve the other. Why? Because police officers are in desperate need of training. They need to learn how to instantly spot and properly interact with our babies who think different from the rest. This will cost money and if you take away money then what you have are police officers who have no inkling on what to do when they encounter someone who is flapping their arms or repeating themselves. Or refuses to make eye contact. Or worse yet, the one who seems normal but is not! There needs to be an adequate number of policemen working on every shift, so no one is running on fumes with low patience and there for making deadly, avoidable decisions. All of this takes funding!

No one is listening. Or watching, or hearing, or reading about the vulnerability of this specific community. The noise is so loud and unorganized that all the pieces to the puzzle have not been found. They have been pushed to the floor and trampled on. The media skipped right over Autism Awareness and straight back into Black History Month.

Why is it that young Black men with autism and the fight for equality can not go hand and hand? As I watched local and national news stations through the month of April, I could count on my hand the number of times Autism was mentioned! Two different stories ran briefly about two very, young boys with Autism who were murdered by their own parents. But those stories quickly disappeared. If that does not speak on vulnerability of young people with special needs, I don’t know what will.

As the tensions around Black men being overlooked and murdered grows to a fever pitch, there is really no mention of mental health.

So, I am here to make a big fuss about it. The spotlight needs to be shared with young Black men who have intellectual disabilities. It should be a loud and clear message shouted from every megaphone: “We need to fund police training, because we have a precious group who cannot fend for themselves.” My son with autism will not just sit in a car and have a casual, productive conversation with an officer. Eye contact and yelled commands are a recipe for disaster. He struggles to sit still and follow basic instructions when under duress. You may need to repeat yourself several times. These are things that could mean life or death for him. It is of the utmost importance that training for interacting with people/Black men with special needs be expedited to the front of the line.

The same ugly looks racist people give Black people are the same ugly looks all people give to people with handicaps. They get a double dose of the ugliness of this world. And Black children with enhanced needs get it from every side.

I decided long ago that it won’t be my neurotypical son and it will not be my son with enhanced needs. My hope is that through all the rage and yelling a theme arises that is organized, detailed and pins down everything that needs to change with both clarity and resolution. One that includes our young Black boys with Autism or any person with special needs for that matter. This world has not treated them fairly and they deserve justice too.

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