Yesterday was the Disability Community Day of Mourning. A day to reflect back on the fact that many disabled people are murdered by those closest to them. And that our society downplays those murders. Recently, for example, the murderers of Alex Spourdalakis were let off with a short sentence and an “involuntary manslaughter” conviction.
Alex’s former mother and former godmother (how can one claim those titles after such an act?) tried to poison him with a drug overdose. When that failed they stabbed him multiple times and slit his wrist, almost severing his hand.
Involuntary manslaughter usually refers to an unintentional killing that results from recklessness or criminal negligence, or from an unlawful act that is a misdemeanor or low-level felony (such as a DUI). The usual distinction from voluntary manslaughter is that involuntary manslaughter (sometimes called “criminally negligent homicide”) is a crime in which the victim’s death is unintended.
Involuntary? Calling that involuntary is a signal that disabled lives matter less.
I didn’t intend to do something as a marker of the day, other than remember some people who specifically break my heart as well as the many, many whose stories I do not know.
No. Instead I went about my life as I often do. I took my family out to dinner at a favorite restaurant. OK, my wife wasn’t there, but we often go out on evenings when the other isn’t there. It’s sort of our way of saying, “OK, since you are having fun, so will we”.
At the restaurant we walked in and the owner looked up and gave us a big smile. He knows us. He knows my kid will be very obviously autistic during dinner. He knows that his entire restaurant will experience this. And he smiles. And he takes our order, by asking us if we will have our regular dishes.
When we were done I could hear the owner offering to move the people in the table behind us. I thought perhaps we were disturbing them, so I apologized if we were an annoyance. No, I was informed, it was just that there wasn’t much room between that table and the one behind it. In fact, he said, he and his wife enjoyed seeing us as a family enjoying our time out. Our time, our way. Our obviously autistic way.
After leaving it struck me–this may be the family that once paid for our meal. One time we went to the register to pay, only to be handed a note saying that some anymous person liked seeing us so much that they had paid for our meal.
Before those who can’t accept families with autistic children having a happy evening–or complain that by reporting it, we somehow demean the experiences of our communities–there is also this. My kid once had a very serious meltdown there. As my wife left the restaurant (which still welcomes us even though, yes, sometimes we have meltdowns) a woman came out of the restaurant and offered my wife help. She was familiar with autistic kids. Perhaps this helpful woman, this woman who bought our dinner and the family behind us last night were all the same. In the end, it doesn’t matter. There are people who accept us.
They accept us because they see us. Because we aren’t hidden. Because we go out in the world, with our obviously autistic behaviors, our meltdowns, all of it.
Acceptance doesn’t mean that we have no challenges. That my kid’s life isn’t harder than most people’s lives. It does mean that even though it is hard, society isn’t making it harder.
And perhaps, just perhaps, some family who in the future has a disabled kid will look back and say–you know, this is going to be hard for all of us. But remember that family at that restaurant? At least there are places where we can go and people will accept us. At least my kid’s challenges won’t be compounded by a society that shames and disrespects him/her.
And maybe, just maybe, the more families who are out there, the more of us parents setting the example that we accept our children, there will be fewer parents who murder their disabled children.
A father can hope.
By Matt Carey