everyone is real

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.

Similarly:

  • 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. 

Ableist hostility disguised as friendliness

Some people relate to people with disabilities in a dangerous and confusing way. They see themselves as helpers, and at first they seem to really like the person. Then the helper suddenly become aggressively hostile, and angry about the disabled person’s limitations or personality (even though they have not changed in any significant way since they started spending time together). Often, this is because the helper expected their wonderful attention to erase all of the person’s limitations, and they get angry when it doesn’t.

The logic works something like this:

  • The helper thinks that they’re looking past the disability and seeing the “real person” underneath.
  • They expect that their kindness  will allow the “real person” to emerge from the shell of disability.
  • They really like “real person” they think they are seeing, and they’re excited about their future plans for when that person emerges.
  • But the “real person” is actually figment of their imagination.

The disabled person is already real:

  • The helper doesn’t like this already-real disabled person very much
  • The helper ignores most of what the already-real person actually says, does, thinks, and feels.
  • They’re looking past the already-real person, and seeing the ghost of someone they’d like better.

This ends poorly:

  • The already-real person never turns into the ghost the helper is imagining
  • Disability stays important; it doesn’t go away when a helper tries to imagine it out of existence
  • Neither do all of the things the already-real disabled person thinks, feels, believes, and decides
  • They are who they are; the helper’s wishful thinking doesn’t turn them into someone else
  • The helper eventually notices that the already-real person isn’t becoming the ghost that they’ve been imagining
  • When the helper stop imagining the ghost, they notice that the already-real person is constantly doing, saying, feeling, believing, and deciding things that the helper hates
  • Then the helper gets furious and becomes openly hostile

The helper has actually been hostile to the disabled person the whole time

  • They never wanted to spend time around the already-real disabled person; they wanted someone else
  • (They probably didn’t realize this)
  • At first, they tried to make the already-real disabled person go away by imagining that they were someone else
  • (And by being kind to that imaginary person)
  • When they stop believing in the imaginary person, they become openly hostile to the real person

Tl;dr Sometimes ableist hostility doesn’t look like hostility at first. Sometimes people who are unable or unwilling to respect disabled people seem friendly at first. They try to look past disability, and they interact with an imaginary nondisabled person instead of the real disabled person. They’re kind to the person they’re imagining, even though they find the real person completely unacceptable. Eventually they notice the real person and become openly hostile. The disabled person’s behavior has not changed; the ableist’s perception of it has. When someone does this to you, it can be very confusing — you were open about your disability from the beginning, and it seemed like they were ok with that, until they suddenly weren’t. If this has happened to you, you are not alone.

Some notes for people who might be new here

This is a blog about interactions between people, very broadly defined.

Any kinds of people. Any kinds of interactions.

I write about things I know about. I’m autistic; I move in the world as an autistic person so that’s the perspective I write from. A lot of what I know about is interactions between autistic people, or interactions between autistic and neurotypical people.

And power relationships. I know a lot about power. 

This isn’t an autism blog, though. It’s not a special place for autistic people or some category of people. It’s a blog about people. 

A blog about people that doesn’t assume that there’s a default kind of person. Everyone is real, and I write accordingly. What I say doesn’t always apply to everyone - but there aren’t special posts that are disability posts and posts that are regular, or anything.

They’re all for everyone they apply to. No matter why they apply. This is not a place to worry about appropriation. It’s ok to listen, and to comment, and to learn from this. (Even if I’m talking about something that happens to autistic people, and you notice that it also happens in another context).

For those of you who are used to being described as the default kind of person, you might find this disconcerting. Especially if you’re not accustomed to having to notice that people unlike you exist.

You might want to consider what this means about the world you live in.

“What he would have wanted”

Talking about what someone would have wanted only makes sense if that person is dead.

If the person you’re talking about is still alive, talk about what they do want.

And assume that they want to live. Almost everyone does.

Even if they’re brain damaged, even if they’re in pain, even if they have dementia, even if they no longer recognize people.

They’re still a person. They’re still there. And they still want things.

So don’t ask what they would have wanted. Ask what they do want.

"What he would have wanted"

sweetsweetsweetdivinething:

realsocialskills:

Talking about what someone would have wanted only makes sense if that person is dead.

If the person you’re talking about is still alive, talk about what they do want.

And assume that they want to live. Almost everyone does.

Even if they’re brain damaged, even if they’re in pain, even if they have dementia, even if they no longer recognize people.

They’re still a person. They’re still there. And they still want things.

So don’t ask what they would have wanted. Ask what they do want.

Before the cancer, my dad always said “I won’t be helpless. Just put a bullet in my head.“

That’s what he WOULD HAVE wanted.

Once he had cancer, he stayed in the hospital and was tube fed until he died. He met his previous definition of “helpless” for months, but complied with doctors’ orders to stay alive.

That’s what he DID want.

Don’t ever assume someone’s views haven’t changed with their circumstances.

That, too. 

When you realize that it's wrong...

I’m asking you because you are a good person. My brother has dyslexia and all his life he was bullied to think he was worthless, a mistake of our mother. I admit I have my parcel of blame in this, but I too was raised to think of him of a lesser being by our grandmother. These days he’s being bullied by his teachers, expecting him to get higher grades, again, like mine. He asked me the other day what he would do with his life, because he really thinks he is unskilled and is  a big waste of time and space. He asked me what he is good with, because from his eyes, he can’t do anything right.

I honestly don’t know what to say to him and I know this is pretty much because I was born resembling my grandmother with my father’s memory while he resembles mother in almost everything, whom grandmother hated until she died.

I don’t know what to do, please help us.

I don’t know your brother and I don’t know what he’s good at, so I can’t address that directly, but, here’s what I can suggest:

Talk to him about the abuse

  • Tell him that what you and your grandmother did to him was wrong
  • Tell him that what his teachers are doing is wrong and disgusting
  • Tell him that he shouldn’t be treated like that and that it isn’t his fault
  • It’s not because of his grades, or anything about him. It’s because of prejudice and hate
Be honest about your part in it, and do what you can to treat him right from now on
  • Tell him that you’re sorry for your part in it, but don’t make it about you trying to feel better or get him to reassure you
  • Be specific about things you’ve done to him that you think were wrong
  • Don’t do those things
  • When he points out that you’re still doing those things, apologize and stop
  • Don’t expect him to trust you just because you’ve realized it was wrong – you have to stop doing it, over a long period of time, before it’s likely that you will seem safe
  • Listen if he wants to talk, but don’t push the issue
And here are some things I’d say to him directly, if I was talking to him rather than you:

It’s ok not to know what you want to do or are good at:

  • Doing stuff is awesome, and life gets better when you find good stuff to do
  • Everyone has worthwhile things they can do
  • It takes time and work and exploration to figure out what they are and get good at them
  • School isn’t conducive to this kind of growth for everyone
  • School is actively harmful to some people. 
  • Having school and an unsupportive family undermine your ability to find things to do is really, really common for people with learning disabilities
  • It isn’t your fault that this happened to you, and struggling in that environment doesn’t suggest anything bad about you
  • You don’t have to be a super accomplished superhero to have worth as a person. Don’t hold yourself to that standard.

Spending more time on things you like helps:

  • People who struggle with school are often taught that anything they like is a waste of time, and that they should stop doing it and spend more time banging their head against impossible or barely-possible assignments
  • That’s really bad advice; you can’t develop your interests and abilities by renouncing everything you like
  • Finding stuff you like and are good at is more important than faking normal at school.
  • If you like video games, play them
  • If you like TV shows, watch them
  • If you like cooking, cook things
  • If you like talking to people online, find people to talk to
  • Etc etc. These are just some examples of things some people like, not necessarily things you do or should like. Do things that *you* like.
  • Doing things you like is important. Even if they’re activities other people don’t value very much. You have to explore to find out what you like and can do well. And you need space to do that in. So, take some space.

Acknowledging limitations creates abilities

  • People with disabilities are often taught that if we don’t acknowledge limitations, we won’t have any
  • And then we are forced to spend lots and lots of time and effort pretending that this is true
  • We spend so much time pretending that we can do things and forcing ourselves to do things that are barely possible, that we don’t have much available for anything else
  • If we acknowledge limitations and stop doing that, then all that time and energy becomes available for doing other things
  • And then we can actually start doing things well and succeed at things
  • Acknowledging and understanding disability is one of the most important life skills anyone with a disability can develop.

Connect with other people with similar issues:

  • Special ed teachers and other alleged experts often don’t know what they’re talking about
  • They will often advise you to do actively harmful things
  • Peer support from other people with related disabilities helps, because they often know what they’re talking about and have strategies for dealing with it.
  • In any case, judge for yourself and do what you think will help you. No one else gets to tell you what your coping strategies have to be.