What Prompted the Memory
The Jersey Journal published a story about how a bus driver and aide were fired.
The basics were that they had picked up a number of children, one, grossly autistic.
The child was to be dropped at school at around 8 am but 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 or 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.
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.
One day my mother didn't send me to camp.
Remember, I am thirteen. My mother is incharge of me. I do not work for the Day Camp, I can not just come and go as I please.
On the following day as soon as I walked onto Camp premises, it was one big excitement.
Apparently Frieda had almost drowned.
The police had been involved, an ambulance had to be called, and Where Was I?
Some one with more brains than the others spoke,, not really to defend me, but to
bring up the question; " How could Frieda be sent to this camp?"
Others questioned why the owners of the camp accepted Frieda?,
Someone else posed the rhetorical question;
"Who in their right mind would have put such a flakey kid in charge of anything greater
than handing out cookies?"
(I was always a bit of a flake)
It is Endemic
If you think what happened to me way back in those ancient days when autism was virtually unknown, think again.
A young miss of nineteen got her first job at a play school. She had no qualifications whatsoever at all. 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."
The young miss, who had absolutely no training, was 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.
As the parents never said the child was autistic, she was not to use the term. The most she could say to the parents if they asked questions about her was that she '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
it will rub off or 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