You may be saying that about your student’s parent

Content note: This post is mostly intended for k-12 classroom teachers, but probably applies to other groups as well.

When you teach, it’s really important to be mindful of the fact that people from all walks of life have children. 

When you say something about a particular group of people, you may be saying it about a student’s mother, father, or parent. It’s important to keep that in mind when making decisions about how to discuss things. (Including things that it’s 100% your job to teach your class about).

When you express an opinion about a group of people, your student may hear it as “I think this about your mother”, “I think this about your father”, or “I think this about you and your family.” Don’t forget that, and don’t assume that you will always know who is in the room.

It’s worth speaking with the assumption that there are people in the room who know a member of the group you’re talking about personally. When you’re working with kids, it’s worth speaking with the assumption that this person might be their parent or someone in a parental role.

This is important whether what you’re saying is positive, negative, or neutral. If you speak in a way that assumes that what you’re saying is theoretical for everyone, it can make it very hard for a child to whom it is personal to trust you. And you can’t assume that you will always know a child’s family situation, or that you will always know how a child feels about it.

For instance:

  • Many parents are in prison, have been imprisoned in the past, are facing trial, are on probation, have been arrested, have been accused of crimes, have been convicted, are on house arrest, are facing some other kind of court-ordered punishment or similar.
  • Many parents are police officers, prison guards, judges, prosecutors, probation officers, or in a related role.
  • Many parents (and children) have been the victims of violent crimes. (Including crimes committed by police officers.) Some children may have lost parents this way.
  • All of these people are parents, and most of their children go to school.
  • Some of their kids may be in your class, and you may not know this.
  • Even if you do know about the situation, you probably don’t know how they feel about it.
  • Kids have all kinds of feelings about all of these things (including, often, complicated mixed feelings).
  • If you want to talk about prison issues, crime, justice, legal reform, or any of that, it’s important to keep in mind that whatever you say about one of these groups of people, you may be saying it about a student’s parent.
  • And that you don’t know how they feel. 
  • Speak in a way that gives them space to have opinions, and to be both personally affected and part of the class.
  • If you say “we” and mean “people who aren’t personally connected to this issue”, kids are likely to feel that you are distancing yourself from them and their parents.
  • It’s better to speak with the assumption that what you’re saying applies to the parents of one of your students, and that they may have complicated thoughts and feelings about this.


  • People of all races have children of all races. When you say something about a racial group, you may be saying it about a student’s parent.
  • People with all kinds of disabilities have children. When you say things about disabled people or disabilities, you may be saying it about a student’s parent.
  • (Including blind people, deaf people, autistic people, people with intellectual disabilities, wheelchair users, people with conditions that usually shorten lifespan, and every other kind of disability).
  • When you talk about teenage pregnancy, keep in mind that some students may have parents who were teenagers when they were born.
  • People of all political opinions, including abhorrent opinions, have children. When you say something about members of a political group, you may be saying it about a student’s parent.
  • People who work at McDonalds have children. When you talk about McDonalds workers and people in similar roles, it’s extremely likely that you’re talking about a student’s parent. (Especially if you teach in a public school).
  • Many people who do sex work have children. If you say something about strippers, porn stars, escorts, phone sex operators, dominatrixes, or whoever else, you may be saying it about someone’s mother, father, or parent.
  • People of all faiths and ethnicities have children (who may or may not be raised in their faith). If you say something about a religion or its followers, you may be saying it about the parent of one of your students.
  • And so on.

Being more abstract again:

  • People from all walks of life have kids, and you may be teaching some of their kids.
  • Keep that in mind.
  • Whatever you say about a group of people, you may be saying it about your student’s mother, father, or parent.
  • If you speak about it like it’s an abstract issue that couldn’t apply to anyone in the room, it’s likely to be really alienating.
  • This is true even if what you say is positive or sympathetic.
  • Kids need to be seen and acknowledged. If you speak as though they’re not there, it gets harder for them to trust you.
  • When you speak about a group of people, speak with the assumption that at least one student in the room has a parent who is a member of that group.

(To be clear: I’m not saying don’t talk about these issues. Sometimes it’s 100% your job to talk about these issues. What I am saying is, keep in mind that it may be personal, that you may be talking about a student’s parent, and that you won’t always know that this is the case. Taking this into account makes it possible to teach everyone in the room.)

tl;dr When you’re teaching, keep in mind that the kids in your class probably have parents, and that you don’t know everything about their parents. Their parents may come from any and every walk of life. Keep this in mind when you talk about issues and groups. You may well be talking about a student’s mother, father, family, or parent. 

"I hope that I will live one heartbeat longer than she does"



Content warning: This post is about sentiments leading to murder of people with disabilities. Proceed with caution.

At an autism conference recently, I heard the father of a 20 year old autistic man say in his speech to the whole conference, “I hope to live one heartbeat longer than he does. I’m sure many of you feel the same way about your children.”

That sentiment gets people killed. If you are the parent of a disabled child and you say things like this, it is a matter of life-and-death importance that you stop talking this way. The father who said this is probably entirely correct that many of the other parents in the audience felt the same way. I have heard this sentiment expressed by many other parents of children with disabilities (not just autism.)

Parents who hope to outlive their autistic children are talking about people who, barring tragedy, will almost certainly outlive their parents. Autism does not limit lifespan; most autistic people should live to be old. If you hope to outlive your autistic child, it means that you are hoping that their life will be tragically cut short. It means you think they’re better off dead than they would be living without you. That’s dangerous.

It’s not true. Nobody is better off dead. It is not a blessing to die young. Expressing a desire for someone to die young is not love. (People who say this may well love their children in other ways, but this sentiment is not love.)

Please stop implying that your child will be unable to live and be happy after you die. People just like your child live on in adulthood after their parents die, and your child can too. And they will have a much easier time of it if you accept that they will outlive you, and help them to prepare for their life without you.

The only way it’s likely to live a heartbeat longer than your autistic child is if you kill them and then yourself. Many parents who feel this way do exactly that. And, even if you would never kill your child, people who are considering committing murder can hear what you say. If you say that you hope to live a heartbeat longer than your child, it makes the murder that is the only way this can plausibly happen seem like a much more legitimate choice. Don’t give potential murders that kind of encouragement.

In the disability community, we observe a day of mourning and read a list of people with disabilities murdered by caregivers.

The list is long. And it’s only a list of the names we know. There are many others who died without making the news. 

I hope and pray that your child never ends up on this list. I hope and pray that they outlive you and have a happy and meaningful adulthood. I hope and pray that this list never gets any longer. 

One murder is too many. Not ever again.

Under the cut is the (as of this post) current list of the names we know. In loving memory; may these murders be the last:

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youneedacat said:

Joel Smith and I (Mel Baggs) helped compile the original list of autistic people who were murdered by parents and caregivers, back in 2003.  This is a different list, but it incorporates that list so I am adding this on as historical information.

Also… I am autistic and have other physical, developmental, and psychiatric disabilities.  Right now I am in the process of outliving my father.  He is dying of cancer.  We don’t know how long he has, but it doesn’t seem like it will be long.  My mother has a number of life-threatening medical conditions, but has not been given any estimate of her lifespan.  But currently, despite my own poor health, my autistic brother and I look like we will outlive both of them.  My brother lives “independently” (which means he is dependent on all sorts of things, but they’re the same things nondisabled people depend on, so they’re invisible).  I live with a great deal of support for autism and a large number of medical needs.  I have people in my house several times a day and a service at night that can come within 5 minutes at any time.  

Meaning I’m one of those people that parents are afraid to let live.  Because I require extensive supports.  Fortunately, my parents have never expressed such sentiments and never would.  In fact, when my mother first heard someone say that, she freaked out and sent me a long email about how ever since a doctor counseled her to abort me, she’s wanted me around, and I should never ever doubt that she wants me alive.  So when you say those things, you also upset parents who have always wanted their children.  But anyway…

I’m going to survive the death of both my parents, barring some freak accident or sudden change in my health status.  Right now, I’m under treatment for my health problems (I have a feeding tube and take steroids for my adrenal insufficiency), so my risk of death is lower than it’s been in years.  I will not enjoy my parents dying.  Very few people would, unless their parents were total assholes, and even then they often mourn them anyway.  But I’m going to live through it.  I think my attitude towards death is healthier than most nondisabled people.  I can handle this.  Being autistic does not mean that my life will be over just because my parents’ life is over.

If you are afraid of what will happen to your children after you die, then start fighting for services right now.  It is parents and self-advocates who fought for the services that, right now, keep me and almost all developmentally disabled Vermonters outside of institutions.  You can do this anywhere.  People have done it everywhere.  Look at what people have done and emulate it.  Find ways to make the money follow the person, Medicaid waiver programs, that kind of thing, so that a person can live in our own apartment/house/mobile home or with a roommate if we choose, regardless of severity of disability.  The precedents are there, in countries around the world.  You can do this.

Don’t just build what you think is some kind of utopian institution (those awful farm communities everyone seems to love, but they’re still institutional in power structure) and put your child there.  Make a world where your child has a choice of where to live, even if you think they’re never going to be capable of making that choice, that’s not yours to decide.  I know people who couldn’t communicate choices until they were 30, 40, 50, 60, even 70, so don’t write your own children off.  Fight for the same rights that DD people already have in many places.  That’s where your energy should be going, not into whining about how you are the only person who could ever care for your child properly.

Because guess what?  You aren’t.  In fact, in many cases, people who are hired as caregivers do better jobs than parents.  Because parents have all kinds of emotional entanglements.  Parents try too hard to make decisions for their offspring, they cross boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed.  Other caregivers can do this too, but parents are especially prone to it.

One time a man said to me, “You mean I should let some high school dropout take care of my child?”  He had no idea that in the room was my caregiver, a high school dropout, and one of the best caregivers I had ever had in my life.  Lose your prejudices, they don’t do you any good.  I see a lot of classism in parents deciding that paid caregivers won’t be any good at their job, or will somehow be worse or more likely to abuse than parents or family will.

Not that what I have is perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot better than living with my parents, and it’s way better than being murdered.  And outliving your parents is an experience almost everyone has to grapple with, denying that to autistic people (by killing us!) is denying us one more normal experience in life.  Nobody takes it well.  Almost nobody, anyway.  That doesn’t matter, we still all have to deal with it.  Parents of disabled children often have this idea they should shield us from life’s difficulties, and that always is destructive.  Always.