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Are Autistics The New "Last Oppressed Minority"?

Updated on October 24, 2012

Along with those who have Down's Syndrome and others who are developmentally disabled

Recently I saw an article online that, although it didn't directly affect me, hit home.

On Huffington Post.com, there was an interview and an accompanying video of a young autistic boy, 13 years old, who was barred from attending his local middle school because, according to the school, he would be "...better served at a special school..." that was located quite a bit farther away than the school he wanted to go to, which is within walking diatance from his home and would undoubtedly be much more convenient for Henry, the autistic boy, and his family.

As Henry, according to the piece, speaks only through a voice-activated device. I reckon that the local school simply didn't want to deal with accomodating him, probably thinking that he's nothing but a so-called "retard" who they don't want around.

Which in my opinion is a blatant violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, a law that guarantees autistics like Henry - and all other disabled folks - an equal education with Neurotypicals, who are people without any disabilities.

According to that law, Henry is entitled to accomodations that will enable him to do well at a regular school if he and his family wishes, raher than being put away at some special school.

Indeed, this reminds me of something that my eighty-something year old aunt told me one Thanksgiving, about when she was a child in the 1930's, those who were mentally retarded, autistic, or had any other physical or developmental disability were taken away at the age of five, shipped off to a state hospital roughly 50 miles away, and were never seen again because they were more or less thought of as sub-human.

This practice persisted though the 1950's, and didn't stop until special education curriculum was introduced in the late 1960's.

Throughout the interview that Henry gave in Huffington Post, he virtually pleads for understanding, saying...

"I can learn...I am a person. I have the same rights."

When Henry was asked about the top ten things that he wished that people understood about him, among his replies were:

"Please don't talk about me in front of me...I can hear you. I can read your lips. I can read your body language...but it feels great when you treat me like I am smart."

"Please talk directly to me, not to my support person, or my mom..."

"Please focus on my strengths. I have many..."

"Please presume my competence...remember, I am a person, just like you."

The reason why this piece hit home is because I have Asperger's Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism that negatively affects social intercation. Even though my condition is - and was at 13 - much higher functioning than Henry's and I was able to not only mainstream into the regular school system from first grade on, spending only kindergarten in special ed, but also excel academically as I was often in the gifted programs, Henry's story hit home due to the fact that due to my being an Aspie and the social shortcomings that went along with that, I was often bullied and shunned by my peers as a kid and a young teen.

What's more, my adult years were just as difficult if not more so for me because I felt the same shunning as Henry in the form of being fired from jobs - the longest I was able to be employed in one place was three years, and I was either fired or forced to quit from 12 places of employment in a 17-year span because of my Asperger's issues, as well as being socially rejected, sometimes rudely, by different people due to them not wanting to understand my condition and, in Henry's words, "focus on my strengths."

Don't get me wrong; thanks to my being a high functioning Aspie I have managed to find a few friends over the course of my life, but it has remained an ongoing struggle, one which I completely see Henry going through in his and his family's efforts to get him into the local school.

I see all of this as the developmetally disabled being treated as the "Last Oppressed Minority"; this case of Henry not being allowed into his local school is a blatant example of that.

Over the years, different groups have faced and suffered from oppression due to them being different from the American mainstream:

First, it was the Native Americans, or, in a more common term, "Indians".

Then, for well over three centuries, Blacks of African descent were crushingly oppressed in the form of slavery, Jim Crow segregation and other policies that have effectively made it much, much harder for that population to achieve what their white counterparts have more easily achieved.

Then it was other ethnic groups of color like the Chinese in the 1800's - signs saying "Chinese and Dogs Not Allowed" abounded in cities across this country - the Japanese after Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941 with them being herded into interment camps, and Latinos in the way they have always been harrassed when they try to emigrate across the Mexican border.

Women, of course, have not only been oppressed in the form of not being able to vote or own property, but even today factions are trying to take away their right to decide how they want to control their bodies.

Even whites who are not Anglo-Saxon and Protestant, like the Italians and the Irish, were shabbily treated during the 19th and the first half of the 20th century.

And let's not forget the Gay and Lesbian poulation - Proposition 8, the measure banning gay marriage in the state of California that was passed on the same day that Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, thus denying them the same rights that heteroexual couples take for granted, is a perfect example of their oppression.

Now it seems that the disabled, particularly the developmentally disabled, have become the latest group to suffer from the wrath of mainstream America; hence me putting into consideration the notion that they are the "Last Opressed Minority".

From the evidence that was gotten here by Henry's experiences and mine, not to mention countless other disabled folks, I'm sure, I say that yes, the so-called "retards", the mentally, socially and developmentally disabled, have indeed become the last oppressed minority in these United States.

Or if they are not, they're well on the way to becoming so.

That's the way I see all of this - but as I have Asperger's, I must admit that I'm a litte biased when it comes to this issue.

I wonder how others, namely neurotypicals, see this notion.







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