Monday, January 17, 2011

Mixed Messages

I was at a large staff development today at the local event center.  Several vendors of teacher-related products and also jewelry and T-shirts had set up camp there, and a few friends and I milled around while waiting for the conference to start.  One of the vendors was a local (Texas Panhandle area) T-shirt company that offered me a flyer.  They had cute stuff, so I took it and glanced at it while we were waiting to enter the auditorium.

One of the sample shirts on the flyer stated:

 Autism Rocks! (And flaps and spins and screams and licks!)

I was horrified.  I sometimes react very strongly to things that offend me, but the two ladies who were with me at that moment were also horrified, so I have decided my offense and shock were warranted.

I have an Autism Awareness ribbon magnet on my car.  I do not hide Ben's diagnosis.  I would gladly wear one of the "I love a child with Autism" T-shirts I have seen, or even one that merely said "Autism Rocks!"  I love my child and am immensely proud of him, but one of my biggest fears for him is that he will be made fun of, bullied, and possibly hurt by others because he is different from some kids.  This T-shirt adds to my fear, and the idea that it is marketed to teachers and the possibility that a teacher might actually purchase it and wear it around his/her Autistic students infuriates me.

The taste and appropriateness of some statements are questionable, and some people might think that was a gentle kind of teasing, and I do believe that its intent was probably not to be offensive or to ridicule people with Autism.  But as both a mother and a teacher I find that T-shirt horrendously offensive.  It is not just a matter of bad taste.  It is a matter of demeaning children.

My initial thought was to march right back to that vendor's table with the flyer in hand and inform of her of just exactly how offensive I found that shirt and just what exactly she could do with it.  However, I was at a professional conference, and I ultimately just threw it away and stewed on it.  But I do regret not saying something (something calm but pointed) to that woman.  Maybe she didn't realize it would be offensive, because maybe she doesn't know any children with special needs or maybe she saw it somewhere else and thought it would sell to her customers who teach.  Regardless of any benefit of the doubt anyone may give her, a little thought and consideration would have gone a long way.

It seems as if I have gotten angry a lot in the last week or so.  A FB friend used the term "window licker", an article written by the father of a child with Autism said his son had an "illness" and a "disease", and now this.  I am far from perfect, and I know I have made thoughtless and even ignorant statements before, but I have learned many lessons from loving and raising Ben.  One of the most important lessons is to think about other people's feelings before you speak.  I so wish this person had thought before she printed.