Showing posts with label schuyler. Show all posts
Showing posts with label schuyler. Show all posts

August 24, 2016


This week, at Support for Special Needs:
In years past, her first day of school nerves were pretty epic. This year, it wasn't such a big deal. She got dressed in the outfit she'd been planning for weeks, with her hair newly dyed in a fantastic purple that really has to been seen to be truly appreciated. We sat outside waiting for her bus, and right before it got there, we fired up Pokémon Go on our devices to discover that a Pikachu was standing next to us. If you play the game, you probably understand what a big deal that was, having him standing right there mere feet outside our doorway. (Just go with it, please.) Schuyler was thrilled at her miracle Pikachu. She climbed on the bus, fantastically cool omen critter in virtual hand, and she never looked back.

August 17, 2016

Back to You-Know-Where

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Our big plans for the new school year don't always work out, and sometimes they REALLY don't (hoo boy, let's swap some stories!), but what you learn after a while is that it's the small things that sort of anchor the tent in the wind. It's doing that first walk-through where your kid maybe finds the anchor points in the building where they can get their bearings, and you get the sense that perhaps your kid won't get lost on the first day, or at least not on the second. It's that moment when you see another kid greet yours like maybe they might be friends, and they don't seem to have any obvious psychopathic tendencies or visible swastika tattoos. It might just be that small feeling, the one that suggests that this is big, but it's not too big. It's doable.

August 9, 2016

Optimism on the Launch Pad

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Because I am who I am, I look at Schuyler's positive new school experience, and I wonder what's the catch. But being an overbeliever in Schuyler sometimes means extending that overbelief to those around her, too. So here we go.

July 19, 2016

Acceptance, with an asterisk

Today at Support for Special Needs:
When I was younger and more earnest, I wanted the fixes. I'm older and spiritually winded now, and I'm faced with the strong will of a daughter who's stretching her wings and exploring her own choices. When we talked about the idea of acceptance, and of looking for peace rather than solutions, Schuyler understood that. She's still not done trying to reshuffle the deck, though. And as hard to read as the future is right now, I don't expect that to change even a little.

July 12, 2016

The Watcher

This morning at Support for Special Needs:
There's a lot more for Schuyler to unpack about this, some of it making zero sense at all. I'm not sure Schuyler entirely comprehends racism, except of course she understands being hated and abused or even just dismissed for being different, so I suspect racism's one she probably gets. It's hard to explain to her when she's probably safe and when she's not, because I don't know myself. Schuyler's white, she's a woman, and she has a disability. She'll probably be just fine in a way that is horribly unfair, until the day comes when she's very much NOT fine, also in a way that is horribly unfair. She has both privilege and disadvantage, neither of which is easy to explain to her.

July 5, 2016

Precarious Indifference

Today at Support for Special Needs:
How would Schuyler have reacted in Hannah's situation? I can't say. I imagine she would respond differently, probably shutting down in frustration rather than trying to run. But how can I be sure? How can any of us know? This is why parents of young adults like Hannah Cohen or Schuyler or countless other responded to this story with such visceral fear and anger last week. We don't know how such an encounter would go, but we've been doing this long enough to presume that "happily ever after" isn't where the smart money goes.

June 27, 2016

Awkward Miracles

Today at Support for Special Needs:
It's easy to think of Miracle League as a place of gentle interactions, but that's really not the case at all. The players push hard, although when someone gets knocked down, everyone goes full Chumbawamba immediately. The kids compete fiercely, but it's complicated, because they're not just competing with each other. They push themselves hard, they focus on the task at hand, and they are in a constant state of simultaneous conflict and negotiation with their disabilities. When professional athletes claim to leave it all on the field, this is what that really looks like.

June 20, 2016

No Atticus

Today at Support for Special Needs:
When I look at the work I do, at the life I live as a father, I see a lot that I don't understand. I don't always think I'm providing what Schuyler requires, and I don't feel like I set the kind of example that she needs. She sees a father who has to watch pennies, who raises his voice sometimes, who gets impatient with the world and with her. She observes a father who gets so frustrated with the unfairness of her world that he seems to feel a kind of low-grade anger most of the time, and one who increasingly likes people less and less. I think she sees my fear. I'm pretty sure she understands how terrified I am about so many things, about a future that I can't see or understand, and about a little monster in her head that continues to cloud her future and whose fang and claw I underestimate at my very foolish peril. I'm afraid sometimes of the father she sees, of the sadness that I try so hard to hide from her and from the world.

June 14, 2016

Explaining the devil to angels

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Schuyler's view of the world is a little fantastical and a little simple. It has room for monsters, but not like these. It has room for sadness and fear, but not like this. And her intellectual disability would make it easy to punt this a bit, to file down the sharp points and distract her until the world goes back to talking about the stupid election and who Taylor Swift is dating. But I refuse to do it.

May 16, 2016

Overbelief in Action

Today at Support for Special Needs:

This was no pity prize. This wasn't macaroni art on the fridge, or the much maligned participation trophy that some find so hilarious. No, this recognized her individual achievement. It identified Schuyler as someone who did hard work and expanded her own personal boundaries and abilities. For that, I couldn't be more proud of her.  
This award recognizes something more, however. It illustrates the tangible results of teachers who see a student like Schuyler for the possibilities she represents, not just the challenges. It gives us a much-needed example of what inclusion really can look like, not just a pedagogical buzz word but a working philosophy. It reminds us that every student has hidden abilities, and that they can be unleashed if teachers and support team members will simply look beyond what they see in the moment and dare to over believe.

May 10, 2016

With Thoughts of Other, Younger Days

Today, at Support for Special Needs:
I'm not sure what to think of who I am now. I'd like to look back at that younger me and say, "Oh my god, what a dumbass. He knew nothing." But I miss him. I miss being him. He felt fear of the future, but the ticking clock didn't sound so loudly in his ear. He didn't have answers, but he had time, and there was no way he wasn't going to be a warrior from that point on. He'd written (or was in the process of writing) a book about being a confused father stumbling through some mysterious darkened places, but that was over. Schuyler's monster had been sighted and put on notice.

April 29, 2016

The Very, Very Worst

This is Schuyler.

Schuyler is sixteen years old. She plays percussion in her high school band. Schuyler participates in Miracle League soccer and volunteers with Miracle League kids who play baseball, helping out with their practices and their games while wearing a Wonder Woman cap. She takes an art class and writes stories about dragons and monster armies and evil queens. She's a huge Star Wars fan and loves Rey the most, although she's got a soft spot in her heart for Sabine and Ahsoka, too. She vacillates between carefree atheism and curious agnosticism. Schuyler's ambition in life is to help others, particularly people with disabilities, those who have "little monsters like my own", as she puts it. The little monster of her own that she's referring to is the brain malformation called Polymicrogyria, which is the root of most of her struggles and will be for her entire life.

And at this stage of her life, the thing Schuyler wants more than anything in the world is close relationships. With friends, yes, but also more. Schuyler wants to date. She wants to find someone to share her life with, at least the life she's in right now. She can't tell you what that looks like, not even for sure if it's a boy or a girl she's searching for. She only knows that she wants to explore love, and one day soon, as much as it makes me twitchy to say it, she'll want to explore physical relationships as well. Finding that in her life, breaking her loneliness and leaving her too-long lingering childhood behind, these are of paramount importance to her, in ways that can be heartbreaking to watch.

So here's my question to you, reader. Do you think that idea is gross? Do you find it ridiculous to even imagine? Do you find the idea of Schuyler and young people like her with intellectual disabilities having physical and romantic relationships to be something that just cries out to be a punchline, not just of a joke but of a whole comedy routine?

Comedian Gary Owen does.

Apparently BET and Showtime do, too, since they've invested in giving his act, including his disability-related material, a home in their television lineup.

I'm not going to embed his routine in this post; the thought of his face anywhere near my daughter's makes me want to set things on fire. But I will link to the excerpt on YouTube. I encourage you to go watch it, because I want you to understand how much is at stake here, and exactly how bad it can be for people with intellectual disabilities in our popular culture. But if you choose not to go watch it, I'll understand that, too. I watched it halfway through once and then finally got the stomach to see the whole thing earlier today. That's enough for me; I'll never watch it again. It really is the very, very worst.

If you're not inclined to see it for yourself, I'll give you the salient points.

1) Gary Owen tells a story about his cousin, who is, as he says, "retarded". If you miss him sharing this with you, don't worry. He repeats this information, and that word, many times throughout his comedy bit.

2) The story involves what he believes is the unbelievable revelation that his cousin is sexually active. Even more shocking to Mr. Owen is the fact that her partner also has an intellectual disability. This conceit forms the core of his comedy routine. Two people with intellectual disabilities have a sexual relationship. Isn't that disgusting? Isn't it hilarious?

3) To illustrate this point, he impersonates what he imagines his cousin and her partner's behavior might have been like. Not just the courting, but the actual act of sex.

4) If you're imagining this to be the most awful thing you're likely to see someone perform in mainstream pop culture, I'm going to warn you. It's probably even worse than you're imagining.

5) All of this is okay, Mr. Owen assures us, because it's his cousin. That familial relationship gives him license to make her the butt of his comedy routine, to insist that her sex life must be an awkward joke, and to impersonate both her and her partner in the act. Also, and this is very important, he claims to have volunteered for Special Olympics for ten years on her behalf. (He notes his sacrifice in this regard, since, you know, Special Olympians run funny. He had to endure that, you see.) So, you know, he's one of us. He has license.

When he began to get some negative reaction to his material, shockingly so since he sees himself as such a beloved member of the disability family, he responded by posting a link to an interview with comedian Louis CK, in which Louis says, "Saying that something is too terrible to joke about, that's like saying a disease is too terrible to try to cure. That's what you do with awful things, you joke about them. That's how you get through it."

What Gary Owen doesn't appear to understand is this: It's not his thing to get through. He doesn't have an intellectual disability. No one is suggesting that his life and his own sexuality is a disgusting idea worthy of about five minutes of cruel, grotesque jokes and impersonations. Joking about it doesn't help him deal with the pain because there is no pain for him. Only a target. The fact that he may or may not have worked with Special Olympics doesn't make it any better. It makes it exponentially worse. When he suggests, through the Louis CK quote, that intellectual disability is an "awful thing", he should know that in this case, the "awful thing" about their disability is in fact Gary Owen.

I don't know Gary Owen's comedy; like many who are becoming familiar with his body of work because of this particular comedy bit, I knew nothing about him until now. (Nothing like a first impression.) I can't say whether he's funny or smart, except on the evidence of this one routine, which would strongly suggest that he is neither.

But Gary Owen has figured something out that is fairly insightful, and he's using it to earn some cheap but loud laughs. Gary Owen knows that our society doesn't see people with intellectual disabilities as whole human beings, and subsequently many people find the idea of these people having sexual lives to be uncomfortable. Schuyler and her friends can be cute, and they can be inspiring, even. As long as they remain forever children, forever without adult agency, they are allowed a place in our society.

Beyond that, however, people with intellectual disabilities run into trouble. Having awareness of their own adult emotions and bodies, and enjoying the agency to engage in relationships and live sexually active lives, these are the things that human beings do. It's not something that children engage in, and to so many in our society, people with intellectual disabilities are forever children.

In his heart of hearts, I think Gary Owen understands that the targets of his grotesque humor deserve better. He makes excuses and tries to cover his own culpability with his past volunteerism. He knows that what he's doing is terribly, horribly wrong. But the tragedy and the danger of the matter is simply this: Gary Owen may know better, but judging from the howls of laughter in that video clip, his audience doesn't.

In the past, I've written about the use of the word "retarded" in pop culture, but this time, I wish that's all that was going in. If Gary Owen stood up and simply said, "Retards, what are you gonna do, am I right?", I don't think I would do much more than link on Facebook and say, "Hey, look at this asshole." Watching Owen's wretched comedy routine makes me ill, and it makes me angry. It hits so much deeper than other comedians have in the past because he's not just being cruel. He's not just making fun of young adults like Schuyler, calling them less.

Gary Owen is attacking the very idea that someone with an intellectual disability deserves to be a human being at all.

I'm not sure what I should do, and I'm certainly not sure what I think you should do, either. There's a petition to get Showtime to remove this particular segment from his comedy special, which is a start, I guess. I don't think they'll do it; I'm not even sure they can, legally. Remarks he's making on his Facebook page suggest that Gary Owen has zero intention of trying to make any of this better, and his fans seem to be fiercely loyal. I'm not sure there's much to be done in winning hearts and minds.

But I do know this. I need to do something. I need to know that lots of people feel that same impulse. I need to make some noise. I need to shake some trees and kick some walls. I need to howl at the sky and grab people by the shoulders and tell them about this. I need to expend energy in trying to fix this unfixable problem, because my daughter deserves a full, rich, human life experience. She does, her friends do, and the adults they will all become deserve to have their humanity recognized.

Words matter. Media acceptance of what is, in this case, undeniably hate speech, this matters. It matters that executives at BET and Showtime watched that comedy bit and said, "Yeah, that's great stuff. Let's put our brand on that and sell it to our subscribers." It matters a very great deal that many, many people are okay with that choice.

Schuyler and people like her live complicated and difficult lives. People like Gary Owen make those lives much more complicated and much more difficult. If I could say one thing to Mr. Owen and to the people in that audience laughing so hard and to his online fans defending him, it would be this:

Please stop. Please, just fucking stop.

EDITED TO ADD: When I tried to explain the comedy routine to Schuyler (without actually showing it to her, because I'm not a monster), she was obviously pretty pissed off. She asked if she could make a video in response. I said yes. Well, of course I did.

April 18, 2016

Mission Control

Today at Support for Special Needs:
There's something special needs parents might not tell you, although if you love us, you probably already know. We're exhausted, physically and emotionally, by the hard days, by the times when things fall apart and when our kids reach for the stars and fall to earth with a crash. But the good days, the ones where the successes outnumber the failures and there are more smiles than tears? Those days are exhausting as well. Even the successful days take a toll on us and require us to dig deeper wells than we might always be able to sustain.

April 12, 2016

A world diminished by what it cannot see

Today at Support for Special Needs:
The value of human life isn't defined by the perfection of the human form or how advanced the intellect and its accompanying understanding of a complex world. That's a powerful realization. In a society that places such a high but narrow value on measuring our worth by our productivity, embracing the inherent human value of even the most impaired person is a revelatory act of social defiance, and perhaps a genuine spiritual awakening.

April 4, 2016

The Inevitable Sorrow of Passing

Today at Support for Special Needs:
On a good day, especially when she doesn't have to speak too much, Schuyler passes pretty successfully. There are a few outward signs of her polymicrogyria, but she masks them pretty skillfully. She carries an iPad with her at all times, of course, but these days, that doesn't exactly distinguish her from any other teenager. (Insert curmudgeonly, "get the hell off my lawn" statement here.) Like a lot of kids with intellectual disabilities, she worries about people noticing her difference and judging her for them. For Schuyler, passing is a very deliberate choice. I try to encourage her to embrace her uniqueness, but while I hope passing won't always be her position, for now, as long as it's what she wants, I'll help her any way I can, even as I know where all this leads. This is going to be a tough lesson for her to learn, but it's going to be one she learns herself. It has to be.

March 28, 2016

Eye of the Storm

This week at Support for Special Needs:
This week has provided a short respite, a brief interlude in the eye of the hurricane. We've been doing this now for a long time, officially for almost thirteen years but of course a little longer than that. I've learned a lot in that time, usually the hard way, but there's a lesson I keep coming back to. Hold on to the quiet interludes, the ones that feel carefree even if they're simply pauses.

March 21, 2016

A Hard, Correct Answer

Today at Support for Special Needs:
When we talk about accessibility and inclusion, those aren't just buzzwords. And they're not just about school, either, although that can be hard to remember sometimes. For people like Schuyler, participating in our society can be shut down as soon as they exit the front door. I worry about Schuyler finding employment, but really, there are a lot of steps between here and there for which there aren't any easy answers. Transportation may be the most straightforward, but it's also pretty daunting. It's easy to forget about the simple act of getting from here to there when we're putting together the list of Things To Keep Us Up Late.

March 14, 2016

Building an Adult

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Schuyler is grappling with emotions that are new for her, and with the idea of relationships and a family of her own one day. It's all been so fantastical until now, and her ideas of the kind of person she might be in a relationship with are still very fluid and mostly kept to herself. ("I think I might like girls," she said timidly at one point in the interview. Sorry, grandparents.) Last week, at my aunt's funeral, Schuyler's natural sensitivity and empathy overwhelmed her a little. She wept openly for someone she's essentially never met, because she looked around and saw people she loved crying, and because she was faced with the reality of The End. On the long drive back to Dallas, she asked a lot of questions about death and the people she loved. I could tell she was thinking of her parents in particular and what the world would look like after we're gone. She's catching on that adulthood has some hidden traps, and some deep sorrows.

February 29, 2016

An Undiscovered Country

Today at Support for Special Needs:
In addition to her natural empathy, Schuyler holds on to some fantastical ideas about her world, a place in which monsters and and magic and mysticism still play a central part in her thinking. She understands the difference between that world and the real one in which she lives, but she still copes with the hard stuff with a touch of disconnect. This week, she'll face one of the hardest things the world has waiting for her. She'll face grief, the kind that represents the natural order of things, but also a level of pain and finality that will undoubtedly challenge her.

February 22, 2016

Her Own Beautiful Game

Today at Support for Special Needs:
I confess, I've worried so much about Schuyler finding her tribe, but in some ways, she's had them around her all along. I think I always envisioned a close group that hung out after school and communicated regularly and folded each other into their daily lives. I realize now that I've been looking at it through neurotypical eyes. Schuyler's tribe was never going to behave like I did with my youthful friends. Their particular obstacles are incredibly complex, and the logistics of something as simple as a trip to the mall to hang out are complicated. In the world of Schuyler's disabled friends, electronic communications and social media have become something of an equalizer, and that's where they navigate much their tricky relationships. They're all finding their way, with tools I never dreamed of at her age. Schuyler's Island of Misfit Toys is part of an archipelago.