No More Surrendered Children

I’m not a procrastinator by nature, yet sometimes I drag my feet about writing a post. Today’s is one such post because it reminds me how far we still must progress in treating persons with disabilities as equals.

This weekend, we will celebrate Father’s Day. Whether you have a father in your life or a father figure, it’s a great time to celebrate family. In fact, with days like Mother’s, Parents’, and Children’s Day, spring and summer in general are times to celebrate family. But not for families like the Butlers of Ironton, Ohio.

The Butlers’ seventeen-year-old son Andrew has autism, and it is a severe form. He cannot read or write. More disturbingly, his autism causes him to behave in ways his parents did not feel they could manage. This happens with many young people who have autism; as they grow up, they become physically stronger than their parents, and without the proper support, their autism takes over.

Because of this, the Butlers chose to place Andrew in a residential facility. You guys know how I feel about those places but I also understand there are few other options in some cases, so I will not question it. What I do question is the fact that the facility is five hours away from the Butlers’ home. Because there are no adequate autism supports in Ironton, the Butlers were forced to surrender their son to state custody.

Let that sink in for a second. Put yourself in this family’s shoes. You have a child with autism or another disability. There are no supports where you live–zip, zero, zilch, nada. And so your only choice is to surrender your child to the state?

What the freaking French is wrong with this picture?

“You don’t see parents surrendering their child because of leukemia,” Mrs. Butler says, before going on to name a few other cases in which children are not surrendered. Even though Andrew seems happy where he is, he is cut off from his family. They cannot text or email because Andrew is illiterate, and a ten-hour round trip means their visits are few and far between.

This is one of those things that makes me angry enough to spit. First of all, I’m going to confront Ironton and towns like it with these questions:

  1. Why did you allow one of your citizens to fall through the cracks for no other reason than a disability?
  2. Why, at 17, is this young man still illiterate? I understand that some forms of disability preclude literacy, but did you actually attempt to educate him or did you just say, “We can’t do this, so why bother trying?” Did you attempt to help him communicate in any way? What hope, if any, did you give his parents, or did you just say, “Well, your kid’s autistic so don’t expect much?”
  3. As Dr. Phil would put it, under what theory is it okay for loving parents to have to give up their child and many of their rights in order to get him the help he needs? You should all be ashamed of yourselves.

Of course, for every Ironton, there are places that are doing better, but we are far from “there yet.” As long as one child, teen, or young adult is ripped from family and friends because of disability, we have not done our job. I understand, more than most I think, that disability can be tough. Mild as my form is, I endeavor to understand how severity can impact people. But I am sick of seeing disability tear families apart, forcing them to make sadistic choices.

No more surrendered children. Let’s do our part to get them home, wherever that may be.

 

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2 thoughts on “No More Surrendered Children

  1. You are again asking special not equality, but privileging here. A person with leukemia would also not be helped in Ironton. Granted, the parents would be put up at a Ronald McDonald house or such – but they would still need to leave Ironton. The nature of an illness such as leukemia versus a lifelong and non-lethal condition means a difference in ways to manage. Ironton has a population of under 10K, and only an emergency facility – all serious accidents and illness are airlifted out. One can’t have individual facilities in every town for the one or two individuals who might need them. What exactly are you suggesting?

    1. I understand what you’re saying, and yes, not every town can have “specialized facilities,” although that would be the ideal (if we lived in an ideal world, which we don’t). The only thing I am suggesting, however, is that a lack of services or facilities is not a reason for any family to have to surrender their children to state custody. Children and teens are surrendered to state custody because of abuse and neglect, not because the child or teen happens to have autism or some other condition. If the best Ironton or any other location can do to provide for this population is total surrender and the tearing apart of families, we’re all doing something wrong.

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