Note: This blog post is not intended to question the veracity of any specific stories of injustice toward specific autistic individuals.  Nor am I disparaging any bloggers for the causes they choose to champion.  This is simply an issue in general that I have been concerned about for some time.

A man goes to his spiritual advisor to confess his sin of spreading false rumors.  He feels terrible about it and wants to know what he can do to stop feeling so guilty.  He is told to gather a huge bag of feathers and to place one feather on the doorstop of each person with whom he shared the false rumor and to return a week later for further guidance.  The relieved man races out to do so and returns in a week.  He happily reports that he did as asked and inquires what more he must do to make amends.  He is then told to go back to each house and pick up the feather.  Alarmed, he protests that it will impossible to get them all back.  The spiritual advisor sadly agrees.  

From time to time, I get requests from well-meaning souls to share provocative stories with my readers, either here, on Facebook, or Twitter.  I received two yesterday.  I was asked to share a story about a person with autism who had been unfairly treated –along with a petition to demand “justice” for that individual.  The story, as presented, did indeed sound awful.  The parents were reported to be outraged and desperate.  And there are lots of demands being made for a specific course of action toward those allegedly responsible.

But I’m not going to share the story.

It’s not because I don’t care.  It’s not because I can’t imagine myself in their shoes.  Of course, I think that the needs of the defenseless must be the first consideration when accusations are made.  And it isn’t that I think the stories are false necessarily.  But I think that we, in our community, tend to react with outrage before we sort out the facts.  The problem is that, every now and then, it might just destroy the life of a truly innocent person.

I doubt I’m the first person to declare such, but it needs be said.

There are lots of crazy, unreasonable, and simply mistaken people out there.

Statistically, some of them are going to have special needs children.  And an even smaller percentage of those are going to have a some sort of platform.  That platform, in all likelihood, will also host perfectly sane, logical, and correct people who also have special needs children.  All we have to do is determine which of these complete strangers is telling the truth.

Pause here for a moment of silent reflection.

The problem is we have no easy test for sanity, reason, and accuracy.  There is no database in which to check he said/she said.  We cannot know them all personally.  I happen to think myself a very good judge of character.  I think I’m open-minded, and I attempt to remain civilized.  But I am not so confident in my people skills or psychic ability to champion the cause of a viral internet story without having been present in the room in which it supposedly happened.  I won’t risk ruining the lives of the innocent people who are sometimes going to be wrongfully accused.  That’s not my job.  Detectives, investigative reporters – have at it.  Like the rest of you, I’m interested in the story alright.  But verifying isn’t my area of expertise. So, I’m not going to run in and tweet, share, or blog about it until someone with complete access to all of the pertinent information reports their findings and not just what one side shares with the media and internet.

I have taken an informal poll.  It’s informal because it is laughably imprecise.  Statisticians, avert your eyes.  I divided up everyone I know (or attempted to) and separated them into categories: Reasonable vs. Unreasonable.  I came up with 5% of the people I know being unreasonable, based upon my own unstated criteria and subjective appraisal.  Admitting the fragility of my statistical reasoning, I still confidently maintain you could try the same and come up with a similar number.  (Note: If the number you come up with is 95% or higher, you are the unreasonable one and should seek counseling and perhaps medication.)  Go ahead, try it.   I’ll wait here.

I am a teacher.  And I’m going to say something that is going to be unpopular with 5% of the special needs parenting population.  There are some really crazy parents out there who have special needs kids.  Some of them expect teachers to have no life whatsoever.  Some of them have mental problems.  Some of them are just plain mean.  Some of their children actually lie.  And, every now and then, one of them decides to get your goose.  There isn’t a veteran teacher alive who hasn’t had one come after them.  But usually, those issues involve grades, complaints about teaching style, etc.  The world doesn’t pay any attention, and the matter is resolved to varying degrees of satisfaction.  But special needs individuals?  What else can bring about such strong feelings of rage and empathy in public opinion?  Yep — God help the special education teacher falsely accused of abuse or the doctor accused of malpractice.  Ditto for therapists, social workers, hospitals, police, medical personnel, bus drivers, and anyone charged with the care of this population.

In my 15 years of teaching, I have both seen and experienced false accusations by parents.  Sometimes, it isn’t an outright lie but a simple omission of fact that skews how outsiders view the situation.  I have also listened to friends in the medical profession express frustration with similar incidents.  And, here’s the thing.  All of those people I mentioned who work with children?  They can’t defend themselves to you.  By law, they are not allowed to speak to the media, clarify the facts, or share additional information.  They can’t tell you about the accuser’s history.  They are required to stand still while the crowd throws things at them.

It is one thing to demand an investigation.  I’m all for that.  But that’s not what we usually do.  We tend to insist upon a judgment that concurs with our own and demand action –a firing, a medical treatment/procedure be completed, or prison time.  This court of public opinion known as the internet –most especially for those of us in special interest groups – is a dangerous one in which to be a defendant.  Since, I’m no prosecutor, I won’t be pressing any charges.  Yes, I believe that we need to champion the cause of helping our own children and future persons with autism to have greater access to their world.  Yes, sometimes we need to be outraged.

But I also think that we need to be more discerning in our social media and analysis of the “news”.  Just because someone created a Facebook fan page doesn’t make the story true.  We need to remember that all are not who/what they appear to be.  And just because we can’t stand the thought of such a thing actually happening to our own precious children, it doesn’t mean that it really did happen to someone else’s.

No, I think these words are wise indeed: “Trust, but verify.”

And if verification isn’t possible, don’t state them as fact, but direct the matter to those who can.

It’s a Golden Rule kind of thing.

13 responses »

  1. Jessica says:

    I think this is so true, too often people jump on the bandwagon because, at first glance, the situation sounds like someone has been wronged but really we all need to make our own decisions on what we support and what we don’t. My husband is a principal and I hear similar stories all the time. There are people who won’t rest until someone’s head is on a platter. It’s sad that people feel the need to take someone down in order to feel better.

  2. I agree. We never know if a story is true. I’m a former teacher and there were some totally crazy parents out there who came up with wild stories of what they thought was true. And wanted the teacher’s head on a platter. Yet, I knew the true story. Definitely makes me think about jumping into these causes unless I really know the backstory.

  3. Angela says:

    Thank you for writing this – as a teacher myself I am well aware of my school board’s policy of NOT defending oneself publicly during investigations. I was at a school that was ‘featured’ in a large newspaper and talk radio for condoning a bullying situation. The parents went viral with an incident that was miscontrued and neglected to mention the serious accommodations and intensive professional support that was in place for their child who was alegedly bullied.

    All the media heard was the parent’s perspective – very frustrating for all involved.

    Thank you for emphasising the truth in the fact that there are ‘two sides’ to every coin.

  4. Very well put. I know too well the kind of parent you mean. The “my special snowflake deserves more!” or “I need attention so I’m going to use my kid!” It’s sad, really.You would think parents would ask for what their kids NEED.

  5. disgusted autism mom says:

    I get that you don’t want to put yourself out there on behalf of someone else’s struggle especially because so many autism parents are “crazy” themselves. Yes, one must question the integrity of what a parent with mental issues themselves brings in defense of their own children. Nevermind that the issues came up after having a child with autism and after all the garbage that this education system spits out. I come from a long line a teaching professionals who have no problem admitting that the system is doing a dis-service to children and families with disabilities. I live in a state with a governer who has no problem cutting services to our most innocent and vulernable populations. Tell me what is the difference between politicians having a platform to flood our lives with their selfish agendas with money as the bottom line (not people) and those of us everyday folks just struggling to do the best we can for our innocent children?? By offering a platform does not equate to you agreeing with it. You could provide a disclaimer to that effect. I belong to many autism parent support groups and we learn and find strength in each other and I don’t know of any one on these groups who would turn their back on the other because its just too “politically incorrect” or just plain icky. Hope you never need the backing of someone with a voice to help you provide the basic needs of your child. Not everyone in this country is getting the best of care or education for their autistic kiddos. School districts and IUs are ordered to restrict services except for those parents who are the loudest and can afford the best legal counsel. Where does that leave the rest of us. Factual or not, WE ALL DESERVE A VOICE.

    • FlappinessIs says:

      I’m not suggesting that you don’t have the right to seek services and support for your child. I would and do the same for my own in a heartbeat. I am suggesting that forwarding every story we hear, without someone checking to see if it is true or not, is down the road going to hurt some perfectly innocent people one day. And, before we begin a full scale media assault upon a complete stranger in the name of another, we might do well to remember that that stranger is, too, someone’s child. I believe that we all know someone who is the profession of caring for others. Imagine for just one moment that thousands of people across the country began circulating an accusation against that loved one — without benefit of knowing (and perhaps not even caring) what your loved one’s side of the story is. The reality of such a thing is terrifying. Yes, our children deserve a voice. So do the teachers, doctors, therapists, bus drivers, police personnel, etc. who have dedicated their lives to helping them.

  6. So touched my fears for our world. Also pinned this post on my Blog hop Parents bBoard.

    Also Just posted on the PTA twitter board that too much is asked of both parents and teachers. Must add that the media’s love of ranting and the over abundance of lawyers has made up a less kind society. Thank you for a bit of reason.

  7. Marlene says:

    Thank you so much for your insights and your discussion here. As a professional and a parent I can only say that I do agree with you that we can not champion each and every cause. I have worked with parents for a number of years…early on in diagnosis parents are hurting, angry, frustrated, sad, …going through the gambit of emotions as they try to navigate the system through it maze for services, providers, and to understand the concept of autism, itself…all while doing the day by day care necessary for the child with autism. Suffering happens in many ways, taking a parent through so many stages, and perhaps getting stuck, unable to move beyond the anger of having been given a chiid they hadn’t expected.Month by month, year by year facing new challenges in an never-ending race. Many of these parents want to lash out, to blame…they are hurting terribly. The only thing we can do is provide a hug, and with our own unique experiences with autism, give a reassuring nod to encourage a parent on to the days ahead. Indeed, we must set boundaries for ourselves as to how much we can and can not do for others as we try to take care of our own families. We can provide a hug, a kind word and pray that time will be on the side for healing the pain. Our gut tells us how comfortable we feel with others…I’ve found that we must be careful, whether it be another parent, professional, or any others in our lives. We are going to meet up with others in life that we will have to deal with on one level or another. For those who pose some diffiiculty we should not judge; we can only hope for their eventual well-being.

  8. Santoyo says:

    I totally agree. I’ve met a few unreasonable parents and they really want to be heard over and over and over again. I often will tell them to count their blessings, especially if their child is higher functioning than mine.

  9. Karen Mangano Reynolds says:

    As usual, you speak as one wise beyond your years. Thanks for the post! It’s a topic we all need to be aware of. If you don’t have all the facts…don’t judge.

  10. jimreeve says:

    Some parents do expect way too much from their teachers. And when their demands aren’t met, they think that the teacher doesn’t care. And of course, some teachers just want their pay, and then go home, without much extra thought. The key is balance. And it’s not just in teaching, but it’s in many facets of life

    We all expect our kids teachers to go above and beyond for our kids, but they can’t. So if your teacher is willing to do anything extra, be thankful.

  11. Thanks for eloquently saying out loud something that I’ve been thinking about. I know when I saw a particular petition making the rounds this week, I didn’t sign it. I felt guilty, but I just wasn’t sure whether to trust the story.

  12. Lisa says:

    I love your perspective. I especially like your last statement, “It’s a Golden Rule kind of thing.” Well stated!

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