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Overhearing casual ableism

Photo credit, Gaelle Marcel for Unsplash

I visited my small town historical society's holiday craft bazaar looking for locally made gifts supporting artists. I stopped at a booth of an older gentleman who was a painter. He was casually chatting with a woman about his same age.

As I walked up and fingered through a stack of prints, he told her that he was also a substitute teacher in the local school district working with "handicapped" kids. This got my attention.

The man and woman paid no attention to me as they engaged in a friendly chat.

She said no one wants to work anymore and she used to be a foster parent but not anymore because kids are different these days.

The man who works every day with disabled children agreed that children today have no respect but that the children he works with are "a step away from juvie, and honestly, no one expects anything from them."

I'm not sure how to express the crushing feeling I got in my chest when I heard him so casually express a hopeless future for worthless kids. Kids like mine. I was a late-identified Autistic and was able to get through school outside the special education classrooms, but I'm still Autistic too.

I considered stopping them. The "Ok, Boomer" sat lightly, impatiently on the tip of my tongue, but I couldn't tolerate what was sure to come: apologies and claims that he really loves his job and he's "saved" a kid from certain doom. That surely my daughter isn't like those other kids. That I can only be "high functioning."

I know absolutely that most people who decide to work with disabled children or adults or older adults in need of care and support have positive feelings and thoughts towards those they work with. But plenty don't.

As an Autistic person, and parent of a non-speaking Autistic child who needs substantial support, I don't know who is who. I don't know which of our therapists, teachers, aids, or support workers casually throw us away and determine our futures to be without hope.

If you work with people who require support and find yourself feeling like they are a drain and that no one expects anything of them, please consider whether or not you may be experiencing professional burnout and step back accordingly. If not, please consider that you can change your job or career for your own benefit and the benefit of others.

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