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What Prompted the Memory
The Jersey Journal published a story about how a bus driver and the aide were fired.
The basics of the report was that the bus driver and aide collected a number of children to be dropped at school. One of the children was grossly autistic.
The child was to be dropped at school at around 8 am. However, this child was found still on the bus by a mechanic at noon.
This led to a great public outcry.
There were comments in hard copy, on the television and radio, and of course, in cyberspace. Almost all excoriated the bus driver and aide.
That's when I recalled something that happened to me.
I was 13 years old. In another plot to get rid of me over the summer, my parents sent me to Day Camp.
The counselor promoted me to C.I.T. -- Counselor In Training, and put me in
charge of a girl named Frieda.
I had never heard the word Autism nor would have known what it was.
Frieda seemed retarded to me.
Whether the Counselor knew Frieda was autistic, whether the Owners of the Camp knew she was autistic, I can't answer.
But her parents had to know.
Whether the parents told the owners, or the owners told the Counselor,
I don't know, but I know no one told me.
I was just a thirteen year old kid, going to summer camp, made a C.I.T. and given a responsibility that I might or might not be able to manage.
As a 13 Year Old Flake
I wasn't a particularly responsible person. Even for a thirteen year old. I not pay Freida that much attention, except when we went to the pool.
When we went to the pool I had to undress and dress her. Then I would dump her on a bench, and go about my swimming. Frieda often stayed where she was put.
As a parent, just consider this. You have a child who is grossly autistic. A child
who can not take care of herself. You decide to send her to a Day Camp. Not
a special camp where there are trained counselor, not supply a nurse, just ship
her off as any average child, and go about your business.
Send her to a camp, not personally advise anyone of what to do or not to
do, just send her, and shrug.
One day my mother didn't send me to camp.
Remember, I am thirteen. My mother is in charge of me. I do not work for the Day Camp, I did not have a job for which I was paid. No one informed my mother I had
any special duties.
In fact, no one informed me. I was just told to look after Frieda, as well as the other kids.
So, I was thirteen and my mother was in charge of me and my mother made
her arrangements, and so on this day I was not sent to Day Camp but went
with my mother.
On the following day as soon as I walked onto Camp premises, it was one big excitement.
Apparently Frieda had almost drowned.
The Camp went to the pool as usual, Frieda among them. The kids went to do what they would do and Frieda, on her own, went into the pool.
The police had been involved, an ambulance had to be called, and Where Was I?
I wasn't there. My mother didn't send me.
Some one with more brains than the others spoke, not really to defend me, but to
bring up the question;
" How could Frieda's parents send her to this camp knowing her situation?"
This was a Day Camp. Full of average kids. No one had any special training. And no one knew what was to be done, not done. This was a Camp for average kids
with average Counselors and an average schedule.
Once the question was raised, others began to ponder why the owners of the camp had accepted Frieda?,
Someone else posed the rhetorical question;
"Who in their right mind would have put such a flakey kid (me) in charge of anything greater than handing out cookies?"
(I was always a bit of a flake)
But even if I wasn't, I was a thirteen year old kid, untrained in anything remotely
related to the care of an autistic child.
It is Endemic
If you think what happened to me way back in those ancient days when autism was virtually unknown, was a fluke, think again.
Many parents of these kinds of children don't advise of the nature of the child. They dump them somewhere, and expect everyone else to put their lives on hold and instantly perform tasks that require special training.
Recently, a young miss of nineteen got her first job at a play school. She had no qualifications whatsoever..
However, she was now responsible for children between 2 and 4.
One of the kids seemed autistic so the young miss spoke to her supervisor.
"Just make sure she doesn't hurt the other kids and doesn't hurt herself. Ignore her."
That was the advice the young miss, who had absolutely no training, received.
Being alarmed, she spoke to other play school teachers. She learned that many parents do not advise the play school about their child's autism, and don't want to hear a thing about autism.
Whether it is denial on the part of the parents or some twisted view that putting a child like this among normal children is in their best interest, one can debate.
However the facts are that the parents never said the child was autistic.
The young miss was advised that she was not to use the term autism with the parents. If questioned, the most she could say to the parents was that the child 'didn't share'.
Simply put, the 'play school' was there as a toxic waste dump. Its purpose was to
The young miss was to do nothing to cause the school to lose even one student.
She spent a very nervous semester and quickly got another job and left.
She is not alone.
Dumping the problem on Others
The 'don't see/don't speak' paradigm holds up in many venues.
Whether parents of autistic children think that if they put them with the average
child normality will rub off or if the parents are in deep denial, they are just as bad as those parents who conspire to make other people responsible for the safety of their child.
Just as the play school could place an inexperienced 'teacher' as care giver, or
the day camp could toss the autistic child on a thirteen year old, so too, making a
bus driver responsible for where and when and how an autistic child reaches school, is a shoddy attempt to escape the real responsibility one has as a parent.
I wonder if Frieda's parents cared that their child was entrusted to a flakey thirteen year old.
I wonder if she had drowned while I was supposed to be in charge, if I would have to carry that burden with me for the rest of my life