By Anne Dachel
I have a wonderful friend in North Augusta, SC, Maurine Meleck. As many of you know, I spend most my time writing comments on news reports on autism. It’s frustrating to no end and I’m always happy to have Maurine adding her viewpoint on these stories. She’s a tireless advocate for the autism community in addition to caring for her grandson, Joshua, age 15, who has autism. I talk to Joshua on the phone and he’s always very intense and has lots of information to share. He’s a great kid.
Maurine recently had this letter to the editor published in the Augusta (GA) Chronicle. It was entitled, Don't scapegoat autism. It was about the CT shootings. Maurine warned readers that they shouldn’t associate autism with dangerous or threatening behavior.
Incredibly, recent events have affected Maurine personally. Because her grandson likes to have friends, he’s interested in other students. Joshua likes a girl in his class. He wanted her to know how he felt. He found her family’s name in the phonebook and started to make calls asking to talk to her. He made contact with her grandmother and other relatives and finally her father by calling number after number. This was disconcerting to these people and they reacted in fear.
Maurine wrote to me that Joshua came to school the next day and was met by the police and the vice-principal. They were worried that Joshua was a danger to the girl he wanted to be friends with. The vice-principal called Maurine four times and said that the girl’s parents were “terrified” because of “what’s been happening in schools.”
To Joshua, it was no big deal. The girl was someone he wanted as a friend. He didn’t understand what was happening. Even though the police talked to him at school and ordered him to have no contact with the girl, when he got home he asked when he’d be able to call her again.
This is what we’re left to deal with. There is a generation of children with autism out there who will have to somehow fit in a world that doesn’t recognize them as anything significant.
Maybe all those who claim that it’s all just better diagnosing will be able to explain how kids like Joshua are going to survive with the police showing up at their school, telling them they can’t have any contact with other students because they’re a threat to them.
Anne Dachel, Media